Flagship plans to overhaul the way Scotland’s schools are run would be “absolute folly” and could distract from the teaching of youngsters, John Swinney has been warned.
A summit of council heads, teaching leaders and union chiefs in Edinburgh yesterday heard concerns that the education secretary’s proposals could see schools shifted away from the control of local councils and leave head-teachers facing increased bureaucracy.
Ministers are to provide an extra £100 million direct to headteachers to help address specific problems such as a lack of staff. Schools would also be moved into regional clusters as part of drive to reduce the educational inequalities between affluent and poorer areas of the country.
But it has prompted concerns over “centralisation” of education, curently run by councils, in the hands of ministers in Edinburgh.
Larry Flanagan, head of teaching union the EIS, said after yesterday’s meeting: “It would be an absolute folly to have any kind of structural re-organisation of Scottish education at a time of reduced resources because it would be distracting attention from teaching and learning.”
He said: “The notion that headteachers are accountants in terms of running major budgets is fanciful. In our discussions with John Swinney we’ve been very clear that while we welcome direct money to schools, the issues around that are to do with the level of funding.”
He warned against additional responsibilities for headteachers, including the prospect of teachers being made legally responsible for pupils’ education.
There are growing fears that the proposals will increase red tape and distract from efforts to close the attainment gap that sees pupils from wealthier backgrounds outperform their poorer counterparts.
Nicola Sturgeon has said improving education is her top priority and has staked her personal reputation on closing the schooling gap.
The additional £100m a year from 2017-18 will come from council tax reforms, but town hall chiefs say this is effectively using their resources to fund central government reforms.
Stephanie Primrose, Cosla’s education spokeswoman, said councils back closing the attainment gap.
But she said: “Without the local links and connected services, the outcomes for those disadvantaged could worsen.”
Cosla president David O’Neill warned against ministers acting as a “sole voice in this crucial debate”. He added: “We do not improve by simply centralising and taking powers from communities.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “It will be for schools themselves to decide how to use the funding to raise attainment. No council will be financially worse off as a result of these reforms. .
“It is important that more decisions about the life of schools are driven by the teachers and parents because we know that where this is the case, schools perform better. That’s why we are launching a governance review in September which will devolve decision making and funding to schools.”