Education shake-up sparks fears for Edinburgh

The Scottish Government plans to shake-up education management Picture (posed by models): John Devlin

The Scottish Government plans to shake-up education management Picture (posed by models): John Devlin

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PLANS for the biggest shake-up in education for 50 years have sparked fears about a loss of local democratic control of schools.

Education secretary John Swinney wants to hand more powers down to schools, but would also create new “education regions”, prompting concerns that councils will lose many of their current responsibilities for schools.

Edinburgh education leader Paul Godzik said there was already good co-operation between councils. But he added: “If you look at fire and police, there is a record of centralisation which I don’t think would be positive for education.

“Headteachers have already got really extensive control over large parts of the budget through devolved school managreement.

“I recognise the direction the government seems to want to move in, but I wonder how it can be further extended.”

Tory education spokesman Jason Rust welcomed the prospect of schools gaining greater autonomy and head teachers having more flexibility over how schools operate.

But he said: “I am concerned given the track record of the Scottish Government, that the reality may not be about empowering schools, but empowering Scottish Government. If this becomes another form of centralisation, there is a real danger that education policy becomes even more remote and that genuine issues become hidden from view.”

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland, said he was keen to discover more about the government’s proposals but welcomed a deabate about the best level for decisions to be made.

He said: “What heads are interested in is having control over things that allows them to influence teaching and learning in schools and having time to focus on that.

“They are not interested in having additional administrative or accounting responsibilities if they don’t see them as being related to ways they could improve teaching and learning.”

East Lothian MSP and Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said councils were accountable directly to local people for education in their area.

“As councillors know, if they get something wrong about schools the electorate have a chance to make their feelings known,” said Mr Gray.

“The idea the John Swinney knows what’s best for a small primary school in East Lothian or Edinburgh is just not credible.

“You also have to ask if this is really what our schools need right now. Most schools would say their biggest problems are a lack of teachers, resources and support staff.

“If you have a reorganisation it can cause devastation – we saw that with Police Scotland and with the colleges. Do we really want something like that to happen with schools?

“I asked John Swinney whether he would commit to protect education budgets which have been cut year after year and he would not do that.”

Mr Swinney has said the reforms will include changes to the way schools are funded with more money going to headteachers and a new national formula to give a bigger share of resources to schools with more disadvantaged pupils.

He also promised the underlying values of Scotland’s comprehensive education would stay and ruled out privately-run academies or a return to grammar schools, as planned in England.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com