John Swinney’s education reforms ‘could lead to headteachers being sued’

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John Swinney’s education reforms will undermine work done to close the attainment gap and lead to headteachers being sued, local authority leaders have warned.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) believe the Scottish Government’s plans will make teacher recruitment more difficult and create divisions between headteachers and councils.

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney. Picture: TSPL

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney. Picture: TSPL

In its submission to the Education Bill, Cosla warns they will create extra bureaucracy and put local democracy at risk.

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The warning came as the EIS teaching union outlined its concerns with the Bill including its opposition to a Headteachers’ Charter, designed to empower those in charge of schools.

Cosla’s submission said: “We are concerned that proposed changes could create pressures which have a negative impact on headteachers ability to deliver education to children and young people thus undermining much of the good work that has gone in to closing the attainment gap.”

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Cosla also said there were “serious concerns” that “significant legal barriers would be created which would expose headteachers to personal liability.”

According to legal advice obtained by Cosla, local authorities will need to produced guidance for headteachers to follow as councils will be “vicariously liable” for their actions. “If a headteacher acts outside of guidance, it will be possible to sue individual headteachers. Therefore, all headteachers will require insurance extra to current local authority insurance,” the submission said.

Councils are worried about Mr Swinney’s plans to introduce new regional education bodies arguing that their democratic role will be diminished.

Cosla’s children and young people’s spokesman Cllr Stephen McCabe said: “Cosla are clear that the proposed legislation would not improve the educational attainment of young people, despite this being the goal of both local and Scottish Government.

“We are also clear that the proposals put our headteachers’ role as leaders of learning communities at risk.

“The increase in bureaucracy that the proposals would bring has the potential of increasing the existing difficulties Councils are experiencing with recruitment and retention.

“Ultimately, there are significant risks to the ideal of local democracy in Scotland and to our ability as Councils to provide a multi-service approach to support our young people and their families.”

In its submission the EIS said headteachers and teachers were opposed to the Headteachers’ Charter. EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “These proposals could radically change the job of headteacher, creating additional bureaucratic and managerialist tasks on top of an already severe workload burden.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman defended Mr Swinney’s proposals. She said: “Our education reforms are focussed on giving schools and headteachers more power and money to raise standards and close the attainment gap.

“Our reform proposals are based on international evidence of how high-performing education systems work - and will deliver extra help for teachers in the classroom, more professional development and a stronger voice for parents and pupils.”