Ask a headteacher to cite the most important part of their job and they would likely tell you it’s being the leader of learning in their school. But the government’s plans to hand heads more responsibility has led to fears among them that the reforms would distance them from the classroom, with the role amounting to a business and human resources manager, according to an investigation by MSPs.
The director of Scotland’s largest local authority has echoed their concern, warning that if the Headteachers’ Charter – which sets out the SNPs vision for the most senior school-leadership role – enters law, it would have “significant repercussions for headteachers” and “change their role radically”.
Maureen McKenna – Glasgow’s director of education and president of directors’ association ADES – said last week that she agrees with the principles laid out in the charter, but that there was “insufficient emphasis on the importance of collegiality”. The danger, she added, was that the charter would create “hero innovators” and an “all roads lead to one person” culture, despite a greater likelihood of best practice occurring “when the whole community is engaged”.
McKenna’s comments were made when giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, which last week left Holyrood to hold one of its regular meetings in Glasgow.
MSPs on the committee heard, in focus groups held on the same day, school staff expressing similar concerns that the changes could create a structure “where the headteacher sits above everyone else”.
Liberal Democrats education spokesman Tavish Scott said that one headteacher described the change in her role as “moving from being a leader of learning to being a business and human resources manager”.
McKenna continued: “If the Headteachers’ Charter ends up in legislation in the way that it is written, it will have significant repercussions for headteachers.
“I think that it will impact on their role as leaders of learning if all those responsibilities transfer verbatim. If we interpret it the way in which it is written verbatim, with headteachers being required to appoint every member of staff, including support staff, clerical staff and janitors, it will change their role radically.”
Scotland’s largest teaching union has already voiced similar concerns. The EIS said that the government was in danger of creating “academies-light” – in reference to the reduction in local authority power in England and an increase in headteacher power – if it pushed ahead with the plans.
In the event of headteachers being given bigger budgets to manage, the EIS has called for “school finance committees” to be formed. These, it suggested, would draw membership from the entire school community and relieve “headteachers of the solitary burden of making unilateral decisions”.
Headteachers’ organisation School Leaders Scotland (SLS) has made it clear that if heads were to be given more responsibility for budgets, then every school would have to have access to a business manager – and pay would need to be addressed.
SLS general secretary Jim Thewliss also points out that councils would continue to be the employers under the plans, so heads would expect human-resource services and financial advice to still be made available.
Thewliss says: “We will be looking for the government to ensure that, before this moves forward, there is dedicated business-manager support in every school.”
'Collegiality and collaboration'
SLS president and headteacher of Elgin Academy in Moray, David Barnett, adds: “Best practice in schools currently involves collegiality and collaboration across the school community – there is no reason why the Headteachers’ Charter should change this.”
A Scottish government spokeswoman says that the proposed reforms were based on the presumption that decisions about children’s learning and school life should be taken at school level. The reforms would empower heads to be leaders of learning in their schools, working in collaboration with their school community, she added.
The spokeswoman adds: “[The reforms are] built on strong international evidence that empowered schools and engaged parents lead to a better education.”
The government’s consultation on the proposed education reforms is open until Tuesday, 30 January: bit.ly/edbillconsult