Swinney launches three-month consultation and promises to devolve more power to schools

Swinney launches three-month consultation and promises to devolve more power to schools
The National, by Andrew Learmonth


Scotland’s schools are set to receive more powers and more money in one of the biggest shake ups of the country’s education system.


Education secretary John Swinney announced plans to devolve decision making to head-teachers while criticising Theresa May’s attempt to create a new generation of grammar schools, dismissing selection as “right-wing ideological dogma”.


Perhaps the most radical proposal is the introduction of educational regions, above local authorities, for teachers to “share good practice” and “ensure best value”, as recommended in December in the OECD’s report into improving Scotland’s schools.


Swinney launched a three month consultation to decide exactly what powers should be devolved to schools and what should be kept at national and local authority level, but made clear that the government’s presumption was “decisions should be taken at the school level”.


This, Swinney said, would “empower our teachers and our early years workers to make the best decisions for children and young people”.


He continued: “They have the expertise that we need and they are the professionals who are charged with using the power of education to change a child’s destiny. We will place them at the heart of a system that makes decisions about children’s learning and school life within the schools themselves, supported by parents and the local community.”


Closing the attainment gap and raising standards is, the Education Secretary said, the “national mission” of the Scottish Government.


He insisted this meant taking a starkly different approach to the Westminster government: “We will never allow children to be labelled as failures at the age of 11. There will be no policy of selection or grammar schools in Scotland. Our reform will be based on evidence of what works, not right-wing ideological dogma.”


Teachers unions expressed a worry the proposals could lead to a “turf war” between the Scottish


Government and local authorities unhappy about losing power and money.


Cosla’s spokesman said: “Once again we would appeal to Mr Swinney to proceed with caution. The aim of central government, local government and all those with an interest in young people is the same, we all have similar aspirations, we all want them to succeed.”


After Swinney’s statement, Labour’s Iain Gray asked Swinney to rule out allowing schools to follow the academy model in England and completely “opt out” of local authority control.


Swinney replied saying it was not part of his plan: “My plans are about ensuring that schools are part of the democratic fibre and fabric of Scottish society and that they operate in the local authority context, but I also want to ensure that the school leadership of Scotland is able to take the decisive decisions that will transform the life chances of young people.”


Scotland’s largest teaching union welcomed the consultation but said it would “robustly combat” any change in teachers’ pay and conditions.


EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS believes that there is scope for greater support being provided to schools without compromising local democratic accountability.


“The focus of any governance review should be on how teaching and learning can be supported more effectively, rather than evolving into a turf war between the Scottish Government and local authorities.”