John Swinney announces ‘sweeping’ education reforms with another consultation

Written by Tom Freeman on 16 June 2017 in News

Head teachers to be given more power of the curriculum under new proposals, but councils accuse government of taking democratic accountability out of education

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Scottish Government plans for “sweeping” reforms of school governance will lead to further consultation, Education Secretary John Swinney has announced.

These will include giving head teachers new powers over the curriculum, hiring teachers and closing the attainment gap, as well as the establishment of ‘regional improvement collaboratives’ which will see councils share resources to support schools.

In a ministerial statement, Swinney ruled out Academy-style full autonomy for schools, as is seen in England.


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Instead, councils will still act as employers and retain control of the number and location of schools, provide support services, and hire headteachers, while quango Education Scotland will have a “strengthened” inspection regime, he said.

But because the SNP does not command a majority in parliament, Swinney said the plans will need the support of opposition parties and stakeholders ahead of legislation in 2018.

There will also be further consultation on how the devolved funding is distributed fairly, he said.

“It is clear that the reforms that I have set out today cannot be delivered by Government alone. They will require partnership working, shared effort and real focus on delivering change in every part of the system,” he said.

He added: “At the heart of all our reforms is a simple plan. We will free our teachers to teach; we will put new powers in the hands of our headteachers; we will ensure that parents, families and communities play a bigger role in school life and in their children’s learning; and we will all—Government, councils and agencies—support our schools to do what they do best: transform the life chances of our children.”

Teaching union the EIS cautiously welcomed the proposals. General Secretary Larry Flanagan said they would be a “major piece of work” with wide implications.

“Whilst the precise composition of collaborative regional structures requires further clarification, we welcome the Deputy First Minister’s emphasis that these are intended to form a support structure to allow for the sharing of skills and knowledge rather than an additional bureaucratic layer in between local authorities and the Scottish Government,” he said.

The union “remains to be convinced” about the need for changes to standards body the General Teaching Council, but welcomed the fact local authorities will remain the employer of all teachers.

Flanagan said: “While it is early in the process, this Review provides an opportunity for a more constructive and consensual approach to education to be re-established which would be a positive step for schools, teachers and pupils.”

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council welcomed a commitment for schools to engage with parents in their improvement work.

However, councils umbrella body COSLA reacted furiously, accusing Swinney of removing democratic accountability from the school system.

A spokesman said: “There can be no getting away from the fact that the Scottish Government is trying to give the impression that Scotland’s councils still have a role to play in the delivery of education when the reality is that they do not; the simple truth is that there will be no meaningful local democratic accountability for education in Scotland.

“This is concerning in every way but particularly that today we have seen the Scottish Government fundamentally ignoring the whole system approach.  This will be of most detriment to the most vulnerable.”

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