Scottish Government confirms education bill shelved in favour of ‘collaborative’ approach
John Swinney visiting Ferryhill Primary School - Image credit: Scottish Government
Education secretary John Swinney has confirmed a proposed education reform bill has now been permanently shelved after “significant progress” has been made through a “collaborative approach” with schools and local authorities.
Swinney was accused of “the mother of all ministerial climb downs” by Labour when he put what was meant to be flagship legislation on hold in June 2018 after failing to get the backing of any opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament.
Instead he came to an agreement with councils to implement many of the changes voluntarily.
Proposals in the controversial bill included new powers for headteachers, the establishment of regional education bodies and reform of teaching regulator the GTCS.
Swinney confirmed today in a statement to parliament that the bill will not now go ahead after progress had been made over the last 12 months.
Changes include the publication of a headteachers’ charter to ensure schools have decision-making powers over learning and teaching, the curriculum, staffing and budgets, and new devolved school management guidelines for councils to improve the management of resources.
The Scottish Government has also put £5m funding into developing the role that regional improvement collaboratives play in delivering region-wide approaches.
A plan has also been created to increase engagement with parents and carers in their children’s education and ther work on reform has also been undertaken on establishing new career pathways for teachers and professional learning for headteachers.
Swinney said: “Fast-tracking our education reforms was intended to give schools and teachers more control, quicker than could be achieved through legislation and it is clear to me we have achieved this.
“Already we are empowering schools through the Scottish Attainment Challenge and headteachers are seeing real results in closing the poverty related gap in attainment or wellbeing.
“We want to continue to build on this progress and ensure headteachers and schools have the autonomy and flexibility to make decisions that affect their learners wherever possible.
“Our work throughout the year, in partnership with local government, teacher representatives and the wider education sector, has already made significant progress and I can confirm as a result of our successful collaborative approach I will not introduce an education bill.”
COSLA’s spokesperson for children and young people Councillor Stephen McCabe said: “COSLA and the wider local government family have worked closely with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to ensure that we deliver an empowered education system that makes certain all children and young people get the most from their time at school.
“We have also focussed on how everyone involved in Scottish education can work to this goal and that includes national and local government, schools, headteachers and teachers, wider support staff, children and young people and parents.
“We have always been clear that these changes can be achieved by taking a non-legislative route.
“As such, we very much welcome the fact that the Deputy First Minister supports and recognises the good progress that has been made and we will continue to take forward the reforms to Scottish education without the need for legislation.
“We look forward to working with all partners in the coming months to fully embed and expand empowerment in the education system.”
But opposition parties have called for the Scottish Government to listen to teachers and change its priorities for reform.
Labour said that instead of spending time justifying his reforms, the education secretary should focus on areas such as scrapping standardised assessments for P1s, addressing teacher recruitment and the crisis over workload, addressing reduction in subject choice and the increase in multi-level classes in senior secondary, as well as making sure councils have enough funding to support children with special needs.
Labour’s education spokesperson Iain Gray said: “It’s beyond time that John Swinney woke up and showed some humility over his bungled plans to reform Scotland’s education system.
“From the debacle of his standardised tests, the narrowing of subject choices for secondary pupils, multilevel teaching and a crisis of resourcing in our classrooms, John Swinney is in denial about the reality of what is happening in our schools.
“His so called ‘reforms’ have been pushed through against opposition on all sides by an education secretary who thinks he knows better than teachers, parents or educational experts.
“It really is time he showed some humility, listened to teachers, parents and parliament and got the fundamentals of resourcing and curriculum right instead of ploughing on with reforms no one wants or needs.”
And the Scottish Liberal Democrats urged the Scottish Government to listen to “sensible proposals” from teachers and experts.
Scottish Lib Dem education spokesperson Tavish Scott said: “The education secretary has moved his bill from the shelf to the shredder.
“The reality is that this legislation was so unpopular he couldn’t pass it even if he wanted to.
“He was wrong to produce it in the first place.
“For the past year, John Swinney has sparred with parents, unions and teachers over everything from national testing of five-year-olds to additional support needs and subject choice.
“None of this has advanced Scottish education one bit.
“The SNP should listen to sensible proposals from teachers, experts and the Scottish Liberal Democrats and begin to deliver a positive education agenda.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives criticised a lack of 'hard facts' or data to back up the assertion that standards are improving without the education bill going through.
Scottish Conservative education spokesperson Liz Smith said: “John Swinney is telling us that standards are improving, and that this has been possible because of the absence of an education bill. You couldn’t make it up.
“But, worse than that, there are no facts whatsoever to prove his contention.
“He seems to have discovered evidence that no-one else has found to prove that standards are improving.”