Reform Scotland education commission urges government to devolve funding decisions to schools
Schools should be given more freedom to set their own budgets outwith the constraints of local or national policymaking, a report commissioned by the right-leaning think tank Reform Scotland has found.
In a paper published to mark its 10th anniversary, the Commission on School Reform – a panel of education experts set up by Reform Scotland – said headteachers should be responsible for their school’s budget in the same way as university or college principals, with professional finance officers appointed to work with a cluster of schools.
As part of that schools would be required to “adhere to normal principles of probity and solvency” but headteachers would be given “full control over almost all aspects of revenue spending”.
“School budgets would be determined according to input formulae determined either by central or local government but schools would be free to move money between headings as they saw fit,” the report states.
Commission chair Keir Bloomer, a former director of education in Clackmannanshire who was a key architect of the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence, said the panel had made the recommendation because “the declining performance of Scotland’s schooling is a matter of great regret and dismay to the commission and its members”.
“We have spent our careers working in, on, or for state education, and we have spent the first ten years of the Commission on School Reform suggesting how we might rescue it,” he said.
“Scotland’s recent educational history has been characterised by the introduction of policies on the basis of very little evidence, and in the absence of any piloting, and where pilot projects have been run, the correct lessons have not always been learned. Now, we need the right changes, for the right reasons.
“The essential first change we need is to governance. Schools, headteachers and teachers need to be given the freedom to improve the outcomes of their children in a way that local and national governments of all political backgrounds have proven themselves unable to do.
“Uniformity is the enemy of equity. If central and local government, and schools themselves, accept that, then the scope for improvement is limitless.”
As well as recommending that powers be delegated at the school level, the commission has recommended that within schools teachers be given greater autonomy on the way they teach their classes.
“The incentives to innovate would need to outweigh those tending towards compliance,” the report says. “At the same time, schools would require to be accountable for the use made of their extended powers. This has important implications both for inspection and for other accountability mechanisms.”
As well as Bloomer, the commission counts University of Edinburgh professor of educational policy Lindsay Paterson, Royal High Primary headteacher Anna Hazel-Dunn and Blairgowrie and Glens councillor Caroline Shiers among its members.