Headteachers will be able to dictate the staffing structures in their schools; determine the curriculum on offer and pick and choose their own staff – including being able to refuse to take teachers who have become surplus in other schools, a new government document suggests.
The government also makes a commitment to review heads’ pay in light of the “enhanced decision-making powers” it plans to bestow – a move school leaders have long demanded as a way of tackling recruitment problems.
School Leaders Scotland general secretary Jim Thewliss told Tes Scotland the toolkit used to dictate headteachers’ salaries was hardly fit for purpose when devised many years ago and “when we move into this new world, it is going to be increasingly unfit for purpose”.
He added: “Leadership needs to be recognised and financially rewarded in a more efficient and effective way.” Headteacher David Barnett – who today takes on the role of SLS president – echoed Mr Thewliss’ call for a better pay deal in his address to the SLS annual conference, saying that school leadership needed to be seen “as a highly attractive proposition, in order to attract the very best people into these positions”.
The Elgin Academy head added that it is “vital that every school has a business manager to assist in managing those tasks not directly related to learning and teaching”.
The government plans, however, only say: “If appropriate, headteachers should be able to access suitable school business management support to fulfil their empowered role.”
The plans have been criticised by opposition politicians for “watering down” a commitment to make heads directly accountable for closing the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils. The statutory duty on headteachers to close the attainment gap had disappeared completely, said both Labour education spokesman Iain Gray and Conservative shadow secretary for education Liz Smith. Ms Smith added: “We are disappointed to see a watering down of the accountability of headteachers for raising attainment – something which we believe is vital if we are to improve school performance across the board.”
Heads, however, insist that the revised plans are more appropriate. Mr Thewliss said: “We always had concerns about this aspect of the policy. What we now have is a much more proportionate responsibility, which reflects the shared accountability all services must have for closing the attainment gap.”
The plans for schools are contained in a consultation on the new Education Bill, including the Headteachers’ Charter, published by the government last week (see bit.ly/EducationBillConsult). The document says schools’ priorities should have “primacy” and these should not be “overridden by alternative priorities set by local government”.
Under the plans, councils will no longer be able to “impose” curricular policies and practices on schools, or force all secondaries to group subjects together into faculties
Headteachers, the document says, will: lead learning and teaching; “have the ability to select the vast majority of their school’s permanent staff”; and have “new powers to determine the leadership structures in their schools”. Councils will be required to devolve staffing budgets to schools, not just “discretionary expenditure outside staffing”.
Currently, secondary heads have control of less than 2 per cent of their school budgets, said Frank Lennon, who retired as head of Dunblane High School last year, speaking at an event in Edinburgh last week (see above).
The document says councils will continue to provide “support on funding and staffing issues”, but that new “regional improvement collaboratives” – bringing together councils in six regional groupings – will provide “support on curriculum and improvement issues”.
However, the document stops short of guaranteeing headteachers they will control every appointment into their school. Education secretary John Swinney recently said that headteachers would no longer be obliged to take teachers on compulsory transfer from other schools. On this issue, the document says: “While [headteachers] may be obliged when filling a vacancy to consider staff being redeployed within the authority, they should not be obliged to select them if they are not the best fit for the post.”
Mr Thewliss said that staff who are surplus should have to interview for a post in another school and should only be appointed if they are the best candidate. “If you are going to ask headteachers to lead learning in their schools, they have got to have the opportunity to appoint the correct staff,” he added.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “The focus of the Headteachers’ Charter is to enable headteachers to be leaders of learning in their schools; to provide excellence and equity for all learners; and to interrupt the cycle of poverty and its impact on attainment. We are clear that closing the poverty-related attainment gap will require the collaboration of a wide range of public services – not just schools.”