Scottish education secretary announces major schools shake-up

16 Jun 17

Scottish education secretary John Swinney has announced a radical shake-up of schools governance and support.

This in an effort to make good on the Scottish Government’s central commitment of closing the educational attainment gap between children from different socio-economic backgrounds.

The key elements are sweeping new powers for individual schools, and the creation of new regional “collaboratives” to co-ordinate the strategic efforts of councils and central government agencies to improve teaching and learning in Scotland’s schools.

Swinney has rejected calls from some parents for schools to be allowed to opt out of council authority.

The review has taken place against a background of local authority fears that a power grab was in prospect, to deprive them of one of their biggest remaining functions, running virtually all Scotland’s public sector schools. 

Swinney stressed that local authorities would retain important roles in providing payroll and human resource services, determining school numbers and catchment areas, and appointing head teachers.

But the big winners in the shake-up are individual head teachers, who will take charge of appointing teachers, determining management structures, deciding curriculum content within broad national guidelines, closing the attainment gap in their schools, and controlling a substantial proportion of school funding.

A new statutory charter will safeguard these powers.

A consultation will take place on fairer funding allocation, but Swinney has rejected the idea of giving head teachers full control over the £120m Pupil Equity Fund made available by ministers for closing the attainment gap.

He has also rejected calls to separate out the curriculum development and inspection functions of national agency Education Scotland. 

Both decisions were regretted by Tory spokeswoman Liz Smith, while her Labour counterpart, Iain Gray worried that Swinney was adding a layer of bureaucracy rather than properly paying and resourcing teachers.

A new regional tier, called Regional Improvement Collaboratives, will bring together attainment experts from groups of local authorities and Education Scotland to “pool and strengthen” support for teachers in improving the quality of education.

Swinney told the Holyrood parliament that the reforms would stand on three pillars: enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers, including changes to teacher training and qualification; the new regional collaboratives; and local authority support.

An Education Governance Bill in 2018  will legislate for those parts of the reforms that require new laws.

“These proposals are driven by a relentless focus on delivering improvement in Scottish education to ensure our young people have the opportunity to succeed,”  Swinney said.

“We will free teachers to teach.  We will put new powers in the hands of head teachers.  And we will all – government, councils and public bodies – support our schools.”

  • 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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