New education secretary 'must repair rift with councils'

John Swinney has to build bridges with local authorities still seething over budget cuts, education directors say

Emma Seith

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Repairing the government’s broken relationship with councils will be the biggest challenge faced by Scotland’s new education secretary, sector chiefs say.

Deputy first minister John Swinney’s appointment as education secretary last week in Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet reshuffle has been welcomed by headteachers, education directors and academics.

And they agree that the former finance minister will bring “gravitas” to the role and help to keep education high on the political agenda.

However, it was Mr Swinney who went head-to-head with councils when they threatened to rebel last year over the SNP’s key policy of maintaining teacher numbers.

And he was also the man who drove through the latest local government budget settlement, which was branded as “unacceptable” (article free to subscribers) by the council umbrella body Cosla.

'Taking power from local authorities'

The SNP manifesto, published last month, called into question the future role of councils in the delivery of education: it vowed to “extend to individual schools responsibilities that currently sit solely with local authorities” and “allocate more resources directly to headteachers”.

The document also said that the SNP planned to create “new educational regions to decentralise management and support”.

And although Cosla told TESS this week that it felt “positive” about working with Mr Swinney, the body has previously complained about not being consulted over key decisions, including the introduction of national testing.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said: “The local authorities are the education authorities and the first step will be to make sure all the politicians are fully engaged with the idea of working together to get improvement." 

This is an edited version of an article in the 27 May edition of TESS. Subscribers can view the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. TESS magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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