Plea for evidence to support John Swinney’s school reforms

John Swinney arrives at Waverly Gate. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
John Swinney arrives at Waverly Gate. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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John Swinney has been warned that pressing ahead with a key part of his school reforms without supporting evidence risks time and resources being spent on unnecessary structural change.

The warning about his plans to replace the General Teaching Council for Scotland with an Education Workforce Council comes from the leading academic institute the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

In a submission to the Scottish Government, the RSE also warned that pressing ahead with the reforms too fast could be counterproductive.

While supportive of the principle of giving more power to headteachers and schools, the RSE document went on to say that those involved in education needed to be reassured that the reforms were not about cost-cutting.

The submission expressed concern that it was unclear how headteachers would be accountable for the decisions they take.

On the controversial proposal to replace the General Teaching Council for Scotland with an Education Workforce Council, the document claimed ministers had failed to provide evidence of the need to take this step.

It said: “Without this evidence the proposal is at risk of expending time, resource and energy on unnecessary structural change, not only for the GTCS but for teachers and the other professions referenced.”

It also warned against pressing ahead with rapid reform, giving the example of Sweden where fast reform saw a decline in the school system.

It said: “We are concerned that the current pace of change could adversely impact on the time that will be needed to develop the cultural and capacity prerequisites. We note that rapid decentralisation of education decision making in Sweden coupled with a lack of strategic guidance and capacity building coincided with a dramatic decline in the performance of the Swedish school system.”

It added: “This should be a cautionary tale for the Scottish Government.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “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.”