Scottish teaching union brands proposed school reforms a “significant distraction”

9 Jan 17

The main Scottish teaching union has warned that the proposed reforms of the nation’s school system are likely be a distraction from the task of improving education.

General secretary Larry Flanagan of the Education Institute of Scotland said that any major recasting of the responsibilities of local and central government would be a "significant distraction from the real needs of Scottish education" and could place unreasonable burdens on the education system if pursued too quickly.

Flanagan’s comments came on Friday at the close of a consultation period on Scottish Government plans to reform the role of councils in running schools.

The proposals aim to streamline the current governance system, whereby each of Scotland’s 32 unitary authorities is responsible for state schools in its area. Although the plans reject the English academy approach, Scottish education secretary John Swinney is said to be seeking to hand more powers to schools and to create regional education boards in place of oversight by individual authorities.

Separately, a commission set up by two think-tanks, the Centre for Scottish Public Policy and Reform Scotland, has backed the plan to shift power directly to individual schools and head teachers.

It also endorses the idea of ceding to individual head teachers full responsibility for hiring and firing staff – an approach previously called for by the head teachers’ association.

The commission suggests a ‘clusters’ approach, most likely based on a secondary school and its feeder primaries, where trustees for each cluster would assume power over budgets and recruitment. Commission chair Keir Bloomer, a former council education director and EIS negotiator, called this “a truly Scottish solution to our Scottish problem.

Though the precise division of responsibilities between authorities and boards is not spelled out in the government’s proposals, councils have promised strong opposition to any attempt to “centralise” education.

Ministers were last month forced to abandon a proposal, fiercely opposed by local authorities, to channel £100m of receipts from raising top-band council tax bills directly to head teachers to further the national priority of closing the attainment gap between pupils from different social backgrounds.

The Educational Institute of Scotland welcomed the decision to avoid the academy model but said that continued local democratic accountability was important.

In its response to the consultation, CIPFA Scotland called for caution in handing financial responsibility to schools without a firm plan in place, or preparing staff with the new skills that may be required.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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