THE SNP’S plan to transfer power from councils to schools will be “hugely opposed” by overburdened headteachers unless it is accompanied by funding to hire more staff, the organisation that represents Scottish primary school leaders has warned.
The Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) was responding to the SNP manifesto, launched last week, which introduced plans to loosen the councils’ tight grip on the delivery of education.
It also criticises Scotland’s one-size-fits-all education system, whereby all mainstream state schools barring one – Jordanhill School in Glasgow – are run by local authorities.
The party vows to “extend to individual schools responsibilities that currently sit solely with local authorities, allocate more resources directly to headteachers and enable them to take decisions based on local circumstances”.
The document also mentions creating “new educational regions to decentralise management and support”.
‘The purse is too small’
According to Greg Dempster, general secretary of the AHDS, primary headteachers would relish more freedom to set the priorities for their schools but at the moment the average primary head works 54.5 hours a week when they are contracted to work 35. Any additional responsibility would, therefore, need to come with additional funding, he said.
“Giving school leaders additional responsibility just now without other change would be something the vast majority would be hugely opposed to. They have a lot of burdens already. If they get control of the purse strings but the purse remains too small, that’s just a different set of burdens on school leaders,” said Mr Dempster. Currently “the big burden” on heads is the supply crisis, which means leaders are frequently spending time covering classes instead of leading schools, he added.
Secondary headteachers, meanwhile, have “no appetite at all for anything that smacks of the academies system south of the border”, according to Jim Thewliss, the general secretary of School Leaders Scotland.
But he said that they would welcome more control over how certain pots of money are spent and would support the introduction of a Scottish pupil premium, for instance.
Bruce Robertson, a former education director who has advised the Scottish government on education policy, told TESS that the party’s proposals suggest that a significant shift in education is on the way. The SNP could be planning to remove education from local authority control altogether, he speculated.
At the very least, under the SNP, councils’ responsibilities in relation to education are set to be “seriously changed” and the Scottish system is likely to move closer to those found in England and Wales, he said (see box, “Forget England’s flawed academy approach”, right).
Mr Robertson concluded: “Whatever happens, this signals a major shift in the role of local government in education.”
Rory Mair, the recently retired chief of the council umbrella body Cosla, called the proposals “preposterous” and accused the SNP of trying to strip local government of its power (see box, “‘The death of local democracy,’ says ex-Cosla chief”, right).
Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at the University of Edinburgh, told TESS that the SNP was gradually moving to “quite a radical position on school autonomy”, which could explain the recent push to introduce national standardised testing in literacy and numeracy in P1, P4, P7 and S3.
“The new testing arrangements could be part of that, giving schools the evidence on which to base distinctive responses to local needs,” Professor Paterson said.
The SNP stressed that Scotland will “take its own path” and will not adopt England’s “flawed academy approach”. But the party is coming under increasing pressure for failing to reveal any of the specifics of its plans for school reform.
A spokesperson told TESS that the issue would be discussed with local authorities in the context of the annual discussions about their budget allocations. He added: “We want to empower teachers, parents and local communities to drive improvements in their schools – recognising that the best schools aren’t just those with the best teachers and headteachers, but those that have an active parent body and local community involved in the life of the school.”
For more on the election race and education, see this week’s news focus, on page 18
‘The death of local democracy,’ says ex-Cosla chief
“The damaging idiocy of the council tax freeze has seen national government dictate how much money local authorities can raise. The pledge to maintain teacher numbers has seen the government set out what that money must be spent on. Now the SNP is proposing to direct even more local government resource through its pledge to allocate more money to heads – officers that they don’t even employ.
“In most democracies, these ideas would be derided for their high-handed arrogance, if nothing else. But not in the “New Scotland” where we are encouraged to turn a blind eye to the death of local democracy. These proposals are preposterous and cannot work. Our best performing students already attend the same schools as those who perform less well. It is therefore unlikely that the answer to closing the attainment gap lies solely or mostly in schools.
“We know that student outcomes are most influenced by family income and support, job availability and community resilience. There is a need to invest in such support, but money would be directed to heads, who deliver little or none of this, and away from the councils that do.”
Rory Mair retired earlier this year as chief executive of local government umbrella organisation Cosla
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‘Forget England’s flawed academy approach’
Scotland would take its own path when it comes to increased school autonomy and would not follow England’s “flawed academy approach” under an SNP government, the party has claimed.
England is on course to make “local authorities running schools a thing of the past”, as David Cameron put it.
Last month, Chancellor George Osborne (pictured, right) announced that all secondary and primary schools in England would, within six years, have to become academies – independent, state-funded schools that receive funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority.
A Tory rebellion may yet put paid to that pledge but academies remain the order of the day. Some argue that with the “dead hand” of local authority control removed schools have flourished; others say there is no evidence this structural change has raised standards because the bulk of academies were good or outstanding schools before they converted.
In Wales, also in the midst of an election campaign, there are currently no academies and the education minister has rejected the model. However, there are concerns about the capacity of the country’s 22 councils to deliver high-quality education.
To try to raise standards, four regional consortia, sitting above local authorities, were introduced in 2013 to run education.