Now is the time to delegate and empower teachers - Letter from Lahore

29th March 2013 at 00:00

Dear Graham,

In the middle of one night in Lahore I got an email alert that By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education (Commission on School Reform) was being published that day and that I had a pre-publication copy. I quickly saw that it cited some 600 words of my evidence, all of it as extracts from Richard Elmore, on the theme of school administrators needing to focus on the management of teaching and learning above all else. As you and I have said to each other in the past, the more airing Elmore's work gets in Scotland, the better.

Scottish education can look decentralised, but in reality it is highly centralised. (It has been so since 1872; indeed, that was one - then commendable - object of the 1872 legislation). You and I have often debated these points, Graham. I admit that scarce an educational shot in anger has ever been fired by the Scottish educational establishment: but then they have never had the need to. For the construction that the typical Scottish head puts on the word "guidelines" leads one to doubt their command of the English language.

The report publicly shoots the "Delegated management of resources" fox. That's good. Scottish DMR operates like a parent who gives a child pocket money and then drags the poor wean past the sweetshop, past the toyshop and into an "improving" bookshop for an enforced purchase. The report itself makes wry and eloquent comments on the "parent-child" language used in the submission to it from local government.

The English education system takes delegation more seriously. That is partly about competition and choice. But it is not only about that. Look at London Challenge for an adventurous approach to school improvement that could work in Scotland but has never been tried; and which has had marked and well-researched effects on attainment in London schools.

From my perspective here in Pakistan, Scottish education is in a good state. Most Scottish children go to school most of the time; most Scottish teachers spend some time teaching; most Scottish schools contain students rather than the laird's grain. Things unknown, sadly, in much of Pakistan.

But in Scotland an often dull bureaucracy presides over an often sullen set of teaching serfs.

We should empower teachers and headteachers. And that, Graham, has a big implication for the ongoing development of the teaching force, both heads and teachers. One of the remarkable things that the Soros Foundation established in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the amount of support initially needed by schools when they are liberated.

Yours, Iain

Iain Smith, Former dean of education, education consultant, currently working for The City School (TCS) in Pakistan, writing to Graham Donaldson.

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