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Scottish education governance announcement

John Swinney has today made his long expected announcement regarding the governance structure he wishes to introduce into Scottish education. This announcement followed a consultation on his proposals and his determination that Scottish education needs to improve, and part of the way of achieving this is by giving headteachers, teachers and parents more say in what goes on in their schools, As you can imagine, there has been a lot of resistance to his proposals, especially from local authorities, who have an almost 100% responsibility for public schools at the moment.

When he stood up in the Scottish parliament, Mr Swinney announced that his new governance structure would be underpinned by three 'key pillars. These are to be enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers combined with a Headteacher Charter, Regional Improvement Collaboratives and Local Government.

The 'statutory Headteacher Charter' would sit at the heart of these reforms he said and this would make headteachers the leaders of learning, with responsibility for raising attainment and closing of attainment gaps. They would have more freedom to decide on curriculum content, under a wide national framework, and would have more direct control over  more of their devolved school funding. In addition headteachers would be free to select and manage the teachers and staff in their schools, and determine the management structure for those schools. parent Councils are to be modernised and strengthened to support and promote parental involvement in schools and the ability to support their children with their learning.

The Regional Improvement Collaboratives are aimed at 'building capacity for educational improvement within the system' and are to offer another layer of support for schools and headteachers. These will be led by new Regional Directors who will report directly to the Chief Inspector of education. The collaboratives will  be made up of council education employees, Education Scotland staff, 'and others'.

The third pillar, local government would still have an important role to play and they would retain a vital role in the system, providing a wide range of support services to schools and headteachers. They would still remain as employers of staff in schools, and would have to ensure the quality of headteachers appointed into their schools. They would retain responsibility for the number of schools and catchment areas, and would still provide for denominational and Gaelic provision. They would also have responsibility for the placing and admissions for children requiring additional support.

He added that Education Scotland would be subject to 'significant change', though he said in response to later questions that he still wanted Education Scotland to retain both its Inspection, and its support function, for schools. His argument being that headteachers would then only have to look in one direction in terms of understanding what was expected of them. He also announced that Karen Reid, the current chief executive of the Care Inspectorate, will lead Education Scotland, supported by Graham Logan as acting Chief Inspector and chief Education Advisor until a new appointment is made later in the year.

As with all such announcements, the devil is in the detail. We await to see if the rhetoric and political statement matches what is actually delivered. There is little detail as yet to how some of these aspects may look. I don't think you can argue with Mr Swinney's vision for Scottish education, but we need to reconcile this with some of his actions. I can already see tensions will begin to emerge between the 'three pillars' as they discuss/argue over who has responsibility for what. A lot of the new powers that headteachers will have already exist in my opinion. As for establishing management structures and employment of staff, I am not sure where the leeway lies here for headteachers to tackle these when employment, and presumably budgets, still resides within the local authority hands. If headteachers have the room to shape the curriculum, how much space is going to be given by the other 'pillars' to allow this to happen? There are still too many headteachers, and teachers, who like being told exactly what to do, and they will have to move right out of their comfort zones. I welcome any attempt to help parents to be more involved in schools, in order to support learning, and think any more steps in this direction are to be welcomed. but, again, there are some in the system who will feel threatened by this.

In truth, there is not much in the statement that was not unexpected. I would just say to Mr Swinney that if we really want to improve Scottish education then his focus, and ours, should be very much on ITE and professional development for all. Improvement cannot be mandated. It is through the hearts and minds of teachers, school leaders, other staff and partners, that we will bering about positive change. structures and [policy can support us in these endeavours, or they can throw more obstacles in the way of the people trying to deliver every day for all our learners. To them, this is not a political game, but a professional and personal commitment, that puts learners at the heart of everything they do. They also understand that there are no 'silver bullets' to improvement, just a relentless desire to get better, informed by research and data, and having the necessary time, support and trust to deliver. I will watch the development of these approaches with interest, but I wonder how much time people will have to really make and shape them so that they work for everyone, but especially our learners?


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