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In pursuit of executive command

Raymond Ross reports on the argument for heads to be given more power over schools' captial expenditure

Headteachers could be given more control over their schools as a result of radical proposals made by a headteacher of an independent school in Edinburgh.

Judith McClure's plans include headteachers having more authority over capital expenditure in their schools and functioning like business chief executives while school boards take on the role of company directors.

The proposals are given in her personal written response to the Scottish Executive's consultation document Continuing Professional Development for Educational Leaders, which is likely to form the basis for management and leadership CPD in Scotland (consultation closes on May 30).

Dr McClure, who is chair of Leadership and Management Pathways (LAMPS), a sub-group of the ministerial strategy committee on professional development, as well as headteacher of St George's School for Girls in Edinburgh, calls for Scotland to embrace "a culture of philanthropy".

"If we are to secure first-class public services in the 21st century, of which education must be one, we ought to be exploring systematically methods of funding beyond national taxation," she says.

Dr McClure says her response to the consultation paper is "not a political argument" and should not be interpreted as a challenge to the state system of education.

"I'm not talking about headteachers as isolated figures running an independent company," she says, "but, yes, I think it's right to regard them as chief executives leading a school and that includes being in charge of the facilities and the staffing.

"Schools cannot develop a distinctive ethos and be capable of responding to the needs of their pupils without the headteacher's ability to create an appropriate staff and to produce a strategic plan in which targets for the improvement of educational provision can be set securely within an assessment of staffing and capital expenditure requirements."

With regard to control of capital expenditure she says: "The Scottish Executive Education Department's statistical bulletin gives very helpful information on budgeting running costs for primary and secondary schools in Scotland, but capital spending is excluded.

"The reason given for this is that capital expenditure is, by nature, sporadic. One school may hardly spend any money for years, while another might have millions spent on it in one year.

"The point is that capital expenditure should not be sporadic. Each school should be able to plan a constant programme of improvement, which allows for annual small capital projects and more occasional but regular major building works."

Dr McClure also regards the Scottish Executive's private finance and investment programme as too limited.

"The total refurbishment of some schools does not allow all schools to flourish. A new look at the management of capital expenditure at local authority level could empower all headteachers to get to grips with the changes that will be required in their own schools," she says.

"The development of school facilities (capital development) goes hand in glove with education planning. Each school should be able to develop according to its own development plan, which includes its facilities plan.

"This is not political. I'm not a politician. It's about empowering headteachers to do the best for their school for the education of their pupils," she says.

In her response to the consultation paper, Dr McClure also calls for more effective school boards "so that governors function together under an effective chairman in the same way as the directors of a business company".

She cites school boards in the United States, "where members set out to improve the quality of their school as their contribution to society and seek to engender a great deal of support for it, some of it financial".

This can only come about, she says, if "all the constituencies which support a school - its staff, parents and former students as well as the local community - work together to find ways of enhancing the school's activities.

"We are only just beginning to see what a culture of philanthropy can achieve.

"In the USA education is regarded as at the heart of society and everyone has a responsibility to develop the next generation.

"Everyone gives back financially or otherwise from books for the library to business partnerships with the school.

"This should be our culture to set in process continuous improvement for all schools.

"It's not about replacing state education. It's about building a culture of philanthropy to aid what the state does," she says.

She also wants more consultation with headteachers and more participation of headteachers at a national level.

"We have headteachers on some national committees but every national committee should have a headteacher involved because they are the leaders who will implement the changes. They should be involved in the strategic development of CPD, for example."

To function effectively heads should also have a central position in partnerships with higher and further education so that the issue of continuity from school to university and college can be addressed better.

Teaching and learning in schools and tertiary education should not be separated, she says.

"If we are to develop e-learning and prepare our young people effectively to develop their skills throughout, it must be recognised that headteachers are best placed to advise on continuity in personal and academic development, in curriculum, and in teaching and learning styles.

"The national debate has excluded higher education, but in fact it is the determinant of much that happens in schools and yet it is far too remote from experience of them," she says.

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