Giving school funding directly to headteachers could threaten the very existence of Scotland’s local authorities, according a union boss at an “emergency summit” on the controversial government plans.
Not everyone who gathered in Edinburgh for the event was equally concerned, with the education director at Scotland’s largest council saying that the idea was fine in principle. However, she feared that some of the country’s poorest children would be hit hard when the plans were put into practice.
The Scottish government intends to give an extra £100 million to headteachers directly – a proposal outlined in its “education delivery plan” published in June – using free school meal data to decide who gets what.
Mike Kirby, Scottish secretary of Unison, which represents many non-teaching school staff, warned that “there was still so much that is undefined”, adding that the government’s proposals posed “a threat to the existence of local government”.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, argued that it would be “an absolute folly to look at any kind of structural reorganisation of education at a time of reduced resource”.
Heads as 'accountants'
The profession was already overworked and “the notion that headteachers will become accountants in terms of running major budgets is fanciful”, Mr Flanagan said.
“We do welcome direct money to schools,” he added. But the government’s idea had the potential to create “a new in-house bureaucracy”, while the “hiring and firing” of teachers and maintenance of buildings should remain “a direct function of the local authorities”.
We shouldn’t fear downloading direct to schools, because we already do that
But he stressed that the government plan was only for “some extra money for schools”, adding: “There is no proposal to directly fund schools, nothing approaching England’s academies system…otherwise I think there would be even greater objection.”
David O’Neill president of local authorities’ body Cosla said that the government had created a problem by seeking “a headline without any detail as to how it’s actually going to happen”.
Glasgow education director Maureen McKenna told TESS after last week’s summit that the principle of money bypassing local authority control should not be contentious: it was the government’s proposed method of distribution that created a problem.
“We shouldn’t fear downloading direct to schools, because we already do that,” said Ms McKenna, who is also president of education directors’ body ADES. “We’ve fought for devolved school management, we’ve fought to make our headteachers senior officers of the council.”
'Very poor' determiner
But free school meals was a “very poor” way of determining each council’s share of the £100 million, Ms McKenna said. While larger cities, such as Glasgow, would not lose out under the measure, the approach would “disadvantage rural communities – areas like the north-east and Dumfries and Galloway”, where eligible families tended not to apply for free school meals as readily.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “It is important that more decisions about the life of schools are driven by the teachers and parents because we know that where this is the case, schools perform better. That’s why we are launching a governance review in September that will devolve decision-making and funding to schools.”
She stressed that it would be “for council themselves to decide how to use the funding to raise attainment”.