John Swinney's education reforms could expose schools to financial risk, says report

John Swinney's education reforms could expose schools to 'significant' financial risk and leave them without direction, support and skills, the professional body for people in public finance has warned.
Education Secretary John SwinneyEducation Secretary John Swinney
Education Secretary John Swinney

The Education Secretary’s plans to bypass local authorities and give more power to headteachers have led to the warning from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

Schools and headteachers are to be given as much power as possible under Mr Swinney’s plans to turn around the education system.

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Regional education boards will also be established to encourage co-operation across council areas.

The reforms are being introduced in an attempt to close the attainment gap between rich an poor – an aspiration that Nicola Sturgeon has staked her reputation on.

But a submission to the Government from CIPFA has said taking Scotland’s 2,500 schools out of council control could see their ability to deliver excellence undermined by a lack of direction, support and skills.

CIPFA warns headteachers will have to become more commercially minded if they are to manage school finances. The submission also questions how schools will access local authority reserves and raises questions about future capital investment in schools, considering the limited borrowing powers in the public sector.

Head of CIPFA Scotland, Don Peebles said:“Without detailed plans to replace the financial management role of local authorities, schools could be left rudderless which would expose them to great financial risk.

“The proposals also raise significant question marks over whether schools have the relevant skills and expertise to manage their own finances.

“We hope the reform will bring about the desired change but CIPFA believes that structural changes alone with not deliver improvements to educational outcomes. We need only look to England to see how academisation has delivered a raft of failures in school governance and financial management, and has not succeeded in delivering any significant improvement in educational attainment.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This government has an unwavering focus on improving Scotland’s education system to make it world-class. Our comprehensive programme of reform is based firmly on the independent findings of the 2015 OECD review of Scottish education which recommended, among other things, putting schools and communities at the heart of the education system. That is why we are reviewing school governance, and we will carefully consider all submissions to our consultation.”