Headteachers are to be handed broad new powers both over the way pupils are taught and the teachers working in their classrooms, in a major overhaul of the schools system.
Education Secretary John Swinney also set out plans for the creation of new regional education boards to provide key support for schools, something which is missing in many areas at the moment.
But opponents have claimed that the shift will see the Scottish Government seizing greater control over the running of schools, with local councils sidelined.
The sweeping changes were unveiled by Mr Swinney in a statement to MSPs yesterday and will see headteachers directly controlling more school spending.
But he has ruled out calls for Academy-style schools which operate south of the Border and are outside local authority control. He insisted this would remove “crucial support structures” from schools.
It comes amid concern about the “attainment gap” in Scotland between schools in richer and less-well-off areas, as well as recent figures which pointed to a slide down international league tables in reading, science and maths.
“We will reform the system so that the key decisions in a child’s education are taken by schools,” Mr Swinneysaid.
“Schools will have the freedom to make their own decisions to improve learning and teaching. Everyone else within the education system will have a collective and shared responsibility to support schools.
“We will free teachers to teach. We will put new powers in the hands of headteachers. And we will all – Government, councils and public bodies – support our schools.”
The changes also follow one of the most sweeping overhauls of education in a generation with the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence in classrooms.
The new powers for heads will be enshrined in law with a statutory charter for headteachers. It means heads will pick their own staff, but councils will take on the human resources responsibility for issues like payrolls, amid concerns that teachers may end up as de facto chief executives.
Mr Swinney indicated about six or seven new Regional Improvement Collaboratives will be created to give teachers support.
But opponents have expressed fear that this could lead to greater “centralisation” of the system with the heads of these boards reporting directly to national quango Education Scotland.
“Regional directors report to the centre – more about central control than local autonomy,” Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said yesterday.
The local Government umbrella body Cosla said the changes had sought to give the impression that councils would still have a role in the schools system.
“The reality is that they do not,” said Mr Gray. “The simple truth is that there will be no meaningful local democratic accountability for education in Scotland.”
Green MSP Ross Greer said the changes are not what “teachers, pupils and parents” had been asking for.
“But Conservative education spokesman Liz Smith welcomed greater devolution of power to teachers.
Scotland’s largest teachers’ union, the EIS, said in its response to the Government’s review that the main challenges facing schools were related to funding, resources and staffing.