School inspections are to be used by the Scottish government to monitor whether councils are devolving enough power and money to heads, as it attempts to step up its reform agenda despite shelving the long-awaited Education Bill last week.
The government will also use feedback from headteachers and council self-evaluations to monitor progress, and councils failing to deliver will receive “support and challenge” from inspectors, as well as local authorities’ body Cosla and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland. Failure to make progress will also lead to “escalation to audit and scrutiny inspection bodies”.
Education Scotland will be expected to publish three reviews in the coming academic year looking at readiness for empowerment (to be published in December); curriculum leadership (March 2019); and parent and pupil participation (June 2019).
A spokeswoman said: “The findings from these thematic inspections will be used to identify what is working well and aspects that need to improve. As part of the inspections, HM Inspectors will visit a sample of schools and have discussions with a range of stakeholders.”
Detailed planning for these national inspections is underway and further details will be published next month.
The plans emerged in the deal that the Scottish government and Cosla have agreed in lieu of a new law that would have guaranteed headteachers more control over staffing and what is taught in their schools.
Just last year, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the new Education Bill would “deliver the biggest and most radical change to how our schools are run”
However, education secretary John Swinney announced last week that he was putting the legislation on hold in a bid to give councils the chance to hand more power to schools voluntarily. He said that progress over the next 12 months had to be “sustained and swift” or he would “return to the Parliament and introduce an Education Bill”. And it is Education Scotland that has been largely charged with monitoring progress.
Secondary headteachers, however, have questioned whether the schools’ inspectorate has the capacity to keep tabs on Scotland’s 32 local authorities. New analysis shows that the Education Scotland budget has fallen by £3.5 million in just two years, from £39.062 million in 2014-15 to £35.552 million in 2016-17.
School Leaders Scotland (SLS), which represents secondary heads, said it was disappointed the government had pulled back from legislating but that it would “continue to seek to engage”.
Generally, however, there is support for Mr Swinney’s move away from legislation and towards collaboration. The analysis of the 870 consultation responses to the proposed bill found that there was “support for the principles behind the Education (Scotland) Bill” but “less support for legislation to enshrine these principles”.
In the wake of Mr Swinney’s announcement - which he said would be backed by a £46 million three year funding package – the EIS teaching union welcomed the decision to “pause” the legislation.
Some, however, have questioned whether Mr Swinney’s new approach – described as “the mother of all ministerial climbdowns” by Labour’s Iain Gray – will deliver change more quickly.
Last week, Mr Swinney told Parliament that he now hoped to deliver more power for heads “faster and with less disruption in partnership with local authorities”, arguing that Scotland would have had to wait for 18 months for the Education Bill to come into force.
But Keir Bloomer, convener of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s education committee, said that “legislation would have ensured something significant happened everywhere”.
This is an edited version of an article in the 6 July edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.