Give more freedom to state schools, says top Headmaster

State schools could benefit from the same freedom to run their affairs as independent schools enjoy, says Loretto School Headmaster, Dr Graham Hawley.

Loretto School is rated as among the best schools in the country. Pic: Tony Marsh
Loretto School is rated as among the best schools in the country. Pic: Tony Marsh

The Headmaster of one of Scotland's leading independent schools has claimed years of government interference in the state education system has left teachers feeling they “can’t be trusted.”

Dr Graham Hawley, Headmaster of Loretto School in Musselburgh, a coeducational boarding and day school, said no other profession comes under similar state interference and scrutiny, leaving highly skilled professionals with the impression that the state doesn’t trust them to do their jobs.

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He argued that the government should shift focus from becoming involved in day to day education affairs, and instead set its sights on the robustness of the national exam system.

Dr Graham Hawley says the aim of his school is to "put the child right at the heart of education".

He said: “It’s rare to go more than two or three years without some sort of changes imposed by the state, whether it’s to the exam system or the curriculum.

“I think education is arguably more impacted from politicians than other areas of life.

“The outcome is a sense that teachers or the teaching profession is perhaps not trusted to the same extent by state and government as other professions.”

Dr Hawley, who runs the 600 pupil independent school, said controversial new proposals to hand state school head teachers more power to run their own affairs echoed the highly successful independent school model, and could give new freedom to focus on the needs of pupils.

Loretto School is the country's oldest boarding school

Last month Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney unveiled his plans to give head teachers control of their schools’ management and staffing structure, budgets and curriculum.

The proposed changes echo the tried and tested independent school system, where head teachers work with boards of governance to run their school in a way that responds directly to their pupils’ needs.

However while greater autonomy for state schools has been broadly welcomed, there have been concerns among some that the new system would propel senior school staff into the firing line, making them personally responsible for turning the tide of Scotland’s ailing education system and deflecting criticism for poor exam results from the Scottish government.

Dr Hawley’s comments came as the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA) warned the Scottish Government against “becoming too focussed on changing the structure of the education system when, arguably, the more important aspects are the culture and capacity within the system.”

Dr Graham Hawley says the aim of his school is to "put the child right at the heart of education".

Dr Hawley added: “Our aim at Loretto School is to put the child right at the heart of education. For that to work well there has to be a good relationship between the school and parents, with the child in the middle.

“It seems to me that if you add an additional body to that – politicians, the state, government - you lose touch with the child. The school and parents see the child day to day and understand what their needs are.”

Last year Loretto School ranked in the top five schools in Scotland for A Level results, and is in the top seven per cent of schools nationally for its value-added scores.

While his school operates under the English exam system of A Levels and GCSEs, Dr Hawley said colleagues working in the Scottish system feel the government’s efforts should focus on the SQA and ensuring examination marking is more robust.

Loretto School is the country's oldest boarding school

“That’s something the state should play a role in,” he added, “but day to day curriculum and the hiring of staff should be within control of head teachers.

“As a profession there’s a feeling that there’s greater input, interference and constant change that other professionals don’t experience.

“A natural consequence is a sense that government doesn’t feel that teachers and head teachers can just get on with the job of teaching, and they are restricted to a large extent by frequent government initiatives, red tape and bureaucracy that draws resources away from business.”

Loretto School in Musselburgh, East Lothian is one of Scotland’s oldest independent schools. School open mornings will be held on Saturday, September 16 for the Junior School, and Saturday, September 30 for the Senior School. Visit www.loretto.com for details.