Scottish schools need to be more diverse in nature and more autonomous if the country's education system is to become world-leading again, according to an independent review published this week.
The Commission on School Reform, chaired by former education director Keir Bloomer, makes 37 recommendations in all, with a number of them emphasising the need to focus more resources, support and talented teachers on children in the most disadvantaged areas.
It calls in particular for the creation of an integrated service for children from pre-birth to 3 from disadvantaged backgrounds, designed to improve "learning readiness".
Although the report, By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education, does not specifically state it, Mr Bloomer made it clear that its aim of devolving greater power and autonomy to heads would also allow them to offer a financial premium to attract the best teachers to work in areas of the greatest need.
He added: "Scotland's schools are good and offer consistently high standards of teaching but they are not world-leading. If we want to be the best, some fundamental changes are needed."
Good ideas were not lacking, Mr Bloomer said, but Scotland had not been good enough at translating them into practice to maximum benefit.
Organisation of education was too centralised and "not sufficiently engaging" as far as classroom teachers were concerned, he added.
Dunblane High headteacher Frank Lennon, who served on the commission, called for greater diversity and autonomy at school level.
"In nearly 100 years, we have never looked at how schools are governed. That has implications for the identification, development and appointment of headteachers," he said.
Central government and its agencies should be less prescriptive in their direction to schools, leaving them free to buy in support services - everything from educational psychological services to heating fuel - from outwith local authorities.
Schools should also be free to organise their curriculum structures as they see fit, rather than being directed by Education Scotland to adopt a three-year broad general education and three-year senior phase under CfE, Mr Bloomer said.
Cosla's education convener, Douglas Chapman, said: "We would argue that more autonomy does not necessarily lead to better outcomes for children, and could potentially make the inter-agency working that is happening right now more difficult.
"The report suggests alterations to structures and while we would encourage staff to work collegiately within schools, across clusters and with other professionals, we do not accept there is enough evidence for wholesale change within school structures, nor would we accept a dilution of democratic oversight of school performance and pupil outcomes."
Education secretary Michael Russell said he was keen to explore further a number of "interesting recommendations" contained in the report and would be seeking a meeting with Mr Bloomer "to discuss how we can work together to build on what has already been achieved".
The report gave strong backing to Graham Donaldson's recommendations in Teaching Scotland's Future on leadership, teacher education and professional development.
He in turn described the commission's report as "constructive in tone but potentially radical in its implications".
"You do not have to accept all of its recommendations to welcome this kind of thoughtful challenge to aspects of current orthodoxy," he added.
The key recommendations
- Target support and most talented teachers at the most disadvantaged pupils.
- Set up an integrated service for children from disadvantaged backgrounds from pre-birth to 3.
- Establish a dedicated centre for the improvement of educational outcomes in the most disadvantaged communities.
- Greater autonomy at school level, including devolved school budgets.
- Schools should be free to choose support services from outwith local authority provision.
- The operation and functions of Education Scotland should be reviewed independently by 2015.
- Local government role should be limited to championing the interests of individual children and families and promoting collaboration among schools and other services.
- Strengthen educational research.
Photo credit: Alamy
Original headline: Don't cry: we can have a world-leading system again, review claims