New guidance aimed at providing headteachers with greater “flexibility and autonomy” over their school budgets and staff will be implemented by councils by 2021, according to the Scottish government.
The government once described the way that funding was devolved to schools as “complex, opaque, and varies widely between local authorities”.
Secondary headteachers' association School Leaders Scotland, meanwhile, called the current arrangements for funding schools “irrelevant”, “opaque” and “unfit for purpose”. General secretary Jim Thewliss pointed out that there were 32 local ways of passing on funding to schools – one for each local authority – and concluded that “there is neither equality nor equity at the point of delivery within Scotland or across local authority boundaries”.
The Scottish government has published new devolved school management guidance for councils, as it permanently shelved legislation designed to hand heads more power.
The government said the new rules would “promote transparency, consistency and equity in funding for schools”.
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It added: “Developed in partnership with [local authorities' body] Cosla, local government and headteacher representatives, these build on and improve previous guidelines and provide headteachers and schools with the autonomy and flexibility to ensure that local decisions are, wherever possible, made as close to the learner as possible. The new guidelines will be implemented in all local authority areas by April 2021.”
The guidance states that headteachers should be given the power to determine the best staffing structure for their schools, and that local authorities should consider “empowering an area or school cluster” to enable headteachers “to influence decisions and resource use across a geographical or cluster basis”.
It cites the example of secondary schools in Falkirk managing the provision and distribution of PE and music teachers across all primary schools within their cluster.
And it also highlights the case of a headteacher in East Lothian, who when “empowered to design a staffing structure”, opted not to employ an additional depute when the school roll increased. Instead, the head used the additional money to remove the current depute headteacher’s teaching commitment and to create a principal teacher post.
The changes have, however, been criticised for falling considerably short of the ambitious school empowerment plans announced by the education secretary John Swinney in 2017 – plans that he argued were necessary because of Scottish pupils' declining performance in national and international assessments.
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “John Swinney is telling us that standards are improving, and that this has been possible because of the absence of an Education Bill. You couldn’t make it up.
“But, worse than that, there are no facts whatsoever to prove his contention.
“He seems to have discovered evidence that no one else has found to prove that standards are improving.”
The Scottish government’s plans to hand more power to schools – although supported by secondary headteachers – had been widely criticised. Education directors had warned that heads could use “untrammelled powers” to exclude more pupils and turn away children with special needs, as had been seen with “off-rolling” in England.
Scotland’s largest teaching union, meanwhile, warned that the government was “in danger of creating schools with the same characteristics as academies”, in terms of reducing local-authority power and increasing headteachers’ powers. The EIS described this prospect as “academies-light”, in reference to controversial reforms in England.