Scotland’s education secretary has ruled out removing education from council control, saying the option will not be among those on the table when school governance is reviewed in September.
The Scottish government is committed to “a public education system under democratic control”, said John Swinney.
However, he questioned whether local authorities had the capacity or quality of leadership to effectively deliver education, and called for greater collaboration between councils.
“How many times does the wheel have to be reinvented?” he asked.
When authorities collaborated – exemplified by the seven councils involved in the Northern Alliance (see box, top right) – the result was beneficial for education, he told TESS.
Mr Swinney was speaking exclusively to TESS in the wake of the publication of his blueprint for education last week.
The education delivery plan for Scotland promises a new route into teaching by 2017-18; to simplify Curriculum for Excellence; and to introduce a more intense programme of workload reduction for teachers (see box, left).
The document also outlines plans for a review of school governance in September, so that the government can “empower schools”, “decentralise management”, and encourage “school clusters and the creation of new educational regions”.
‘Get a move on’
Whether educational regions would be allocated or grow organically had yet to be decided, said Mr Swinney. However, he hinted that he would intervene if councils failed to collaborate.
The pace with which Scottish councils had come together to pool resources had “frustrated” him as finance secretary, and now it was time “to get a move on”, he urged.
Mr Swinney said: “How many times does the wheel have to be reinvented? Does each authority have the capacity and capability to deliver the type of educational policy that we require in our schools? Is there enough quality of leadership to handle these issues? Does that exist universally across all the authorities? These are some questions we have got to explore to determine if we have all the arrangements necessary in place.
“I’ve spent many years as finance secretary trying to encourage people to work more collaboratively, to break down boundaries, and all the rest of it.”
He added: “At a time when resources are getting tight, and where we clearly need to focus on improving outcomes, one thing that has frustrated me is the pace of development on these questions.
“Why the hurry? I think that there has been plenty of time given for a lot of these arrangements to be put in place and we now need to get a move on.”
Education directors had been advocating “inter-authority partnerships” for some time, Maureen McKenna, president of education directors’ body ADES, told TESS.
In conjunction with Education Scotland, the body had identified seven educational regions. Three of these would now be developed further to test models of governance and potential areas of collaboration, she said.
Greater collaboration between councils gave “added value”, continued Ms McKenna, who is also director of education in Glasgow, although some councils had yet to be convinced, she admitted.
However, when it came to changing the way that schools in Scotland were run, she urged Mr Swinney to “focus on what makes a difference” instead of just “moving the deckchairs around”.
He planned to devolve more funding and decision-making to schools, but devolved school management had existed in Scotland for years, she argued.
Ms McKenna continued: “My whole thrust over the past eight years has been to empower schools to deliver for their own communities and we hold them to account.
“I’ve seen heads who have not been coping at all. One is now a class teacher, one is a depute, one we sacked – who is going to do that?”
Like schools, not all local authorities were performing well, she admitted, but cautioned against “jumping to a populist solution”.
She said: “We should be putting our efforts into working together to improve these inconsistencies, rather than jumping to a populist solution of ‘give money to schools because they are really good’.”
‘Get it right for every child’
Mr Swinney insisted that to achieve his goal of closing the attainment gap, he had to “get it right for every child” and schools were best placed to do that. He told TESS: “Schools need to be in greater control of what they do because they will be the best judges of the needs of young people.”
Secondary headteachers say that they have no appetite for England’s academies model or for the removal of local authorities. However, they said that they would welcome the opportunity to “review” the current relationship between schools and councils.
There were also inequalities in the way in which Scottish schools were funded that needed to be addressed, said School Leaders Scotland general secretary Jim Thewliss (see box, below).
He added: “Schools could perhaps requisition services from local authorities, as opposed to having services provided by local authorities. That would give schools more flexibility. This is an opportunity to start discussing that view of life.”
The education delivery plan for Scotland promises...
A national funding formula for Scottish schools.
The appointment of an International Council of Education Advisors to keep the government informed of the latest education research.
A new route into teaching for graduates.
That schools, as well as councils, will also be responsible for delivering education and raising standards.
A review of school governance.
That Curriculum for Excellence will be simplified (see pages 12-13).
To introduce a more intense programme of workload reduction for teachers.
The appointment of a panel of class teachers to discuss key developments, in particular reducing workload.
Seven educational regions
The Northern Alliance Shetland; Orkney; Moray; Highland; Aberdeenshire; Aberdeen City; Western Isles
Group 2 Angus; Dundee; Perth and Kinross; Fife
Group 3 Edinburgh; East Lothian; Midlothian; Scottish Borders
Group 4 Dumfries and Galloway; South Ayrshire; East Ayrshire; North Ayrshire; Argyll and Bute
Group 5 East Renfrewshire; Glasgow; Renfrewshire; Inverclyde
Group 6 West Dunbartonshire; East Dunbartonshire; Falkirk; Stirling; Clackmannanshire
Group 7 North Lanarkshire; South Lanarkshire; West Lothian
Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, on the government’s plans…
The easiest option for governments is to fiddle with governance. Structures can be changed at a whim, but teaching and learning require reform of minds and hearts. So it would be easy to be cynical about the government’s proposed changes to school governance.
After all, Scottish education, is not bad. Its faults are manifest, but could be solved in ways that outlast governing systems. Real change comes from students interacting with teachers and with the society around them.
But how we might generate ideas for that kind of gradual reform? Local authorities have introduced new ideas, often in the daily pedagogical support that they give to schools. But neither they nor schools have ever had the freedom or inclination to branch out boldly.
The real bane of creativity here is national agencies, whose recent educational directives have been numbingly obtuse.
Anything that encourages experiments can be creative, and in that sense, the cautious freeing of schools is welcome. And if schools are to be more varied, then the new testing becomes all the more important, ensuring that all paths lead towards the same end.
Commendable though this is, it remains no more than what is necessary. What will make a real difference are the ideas that then emerge – that is a challenge for schools and government alike.