The ‘significant risk’ of headteacher reforms

2nd February 2018 at 00:00
Proposal criticised by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland

The Scottish government’s plans for changing the way in which schools are run have not been thought through or properly costed, say council education leaders.

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) made its comments in its response last week to the Scottish government’s consultation on the law it intends to introduce to empower headteachers.

Here are six warnings ADES makes:

 

1. There is a “significant risk” permanent exclusions will rise if headteachers are given “untrammelled powers”

Last year, only one pupil was permanently excluded in Scotland. Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA), accused councils of a cover up, saying schools now see exclusions as a black mark on their record.

It would appear that more autonomous English schools have no such qualms. There, academic and financial pressures on schools have been blamed for exclusions skyrocketing, which is presumably why ADES is urging the government to look south.

However, the government has ruled out the introduction of grammar schools, privately-run academies or a return to academic selection.

 

2. Pupils with additional support needs could be denied access to their local school

Scotland’s only mainstream state school funded directly by the government, Jordanhill School in Glasgow, has argued that it is “unable to provide the breadth of provision that a local authority can” – although the Scottish government says it is funded to do so.

The school made this argument after it was criticised for unlawfully discriminating against a boy who was disabled and had dyslexia by refusing to admit him.

ADES says the proposals present “real risks to children’s learning” and that “vulnerable children are particularly at risk”. It adds that the proposed charter setting out headteachers’ duties and responsibilities “must state beyond doubt that schools are to be inclusive”.

 

3. “Claims of unfair or constructive dismissal and grievance procedures” could rise

ADES argues this would be a distraction from managing learning and teaching – not to mention costly.

Education secretary John Swinney says that under the new system, headteachers would have the power to refuse compulsory transfers that can occur when staff in other council schools become surplus, or request a move.

However, ADES points out that having surplus staff left in limbo would result in “indefensible” additional staff costs. If severance was used this would also cost money, says ADES – and even then “the professional HR and legal opinion is that such members of staff may have a case for unfair or constructive dismissal,” it says.

 

4. Proposals to redirect money to business support and enhanced salaries for heads risks pulling funds away from schemes to improve learning and teaching

Headteachers have made it clear that if they are to command bigger budgets they will need access to business managers.

ADES points out this has not been costed by the government. The body also says if headteachers are given more responsibility and more money their salaries will rise. It says: “It is of serious concern to ADES that funding that should be directed to supporting improvements in learning and teaching could be re-directed to business support and enhanced salaries for headteachers.”

However, heads say they will be fighting for higher wages irrespective of whether or not their powers increase.

 

5. Many headteachers do not want the additional responsibility

ADES says that primary headteachers, in particular, are concerned about “the additional workload” the new responsibilities will bring.

The body says the additional funding through the pupil equity fund, which gives school leaders an additional £1,200 for every child registered for free school meals, has been welcomed but that headteachers have also “commented on the stress associated with the additional work involved”.

 

6. More control over budgets will not lead to more choices for heads unless there is more money in the pot

ADES points out that the bulk of spending on schools at present goes on staffing and facilities and adds: “The scope for additional flexibility for headteachers is likely to remain very limited without additional resource.”

 

Responding to the ADES submission, a Scottish government spokeswoman says that its proposals are based on sound evidence about how high-performing education systems work.

She adds: “We intend to give headteachers a clear, firm legal basis for their right to make key decisions about learning and teaching in their schools, including decisions about staffing and management structures. In doing so, headteachers will be expected to work with parents and local authorities and ensure pupil participation.”

 

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