SNP and Tories back John Swinney's school reforms

SNP and Conservative MSPs last night voted for Scottish education reforms that will see powers extended to headteachers and give parents more say in the running of schools.

John Swinney

The Tories backed Education Secretary John Swinney’s plans after a Holyrood debate on plans to give headteachers the ability to choose staff, decide on the curriculum and control more funding.

The reforms, which follow a review of school governance, will also give parents a stronger voice in the running of schools, Mr Swinney said.

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The Scottish Conservatives voted for the reforms despite arguing that they are not radical enough.

Mr Swinney said: “We recognise also that we do not command a parliamentary majority and I am keen to engage constructively with members of parliament across the political spectrum to reach consensus on the way forward for education.

“Reform will require collective effort across the system and I am determined on the government’s behalf to work with others to put in place a strong system, to ensure that we have the necessary reforms undertaken to ensure that we make Scottish education world-class and that we can deliver the fulfilment that every young person and every child in Scotland has the right to deserve.”

Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “We do not believe that the proposed reforms go far enough to make good what is wrong in Scottish schools.”

She said the overhaul offered the opportunity to change where “real power lies” when it comes to decision-making, but she questioned how much autonomy headteachers would be given, including who would have the final say over direct funding for schools.

Headteachers have been “trapped in a myriad of directives” in the current system, she said.

“These have prevented headteachers from having freedom to take decisions in their own school, they have constrained choice and diversity, and they have led to a culture of conformity.

“All of which, I believe, have been a large part of what’s gone wrong.”

She added: “It is time to change the system ... but in a way that is much more radical than is being proposed by the SNP.”

Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray condemned the reforms, describing them as “Thatcherite”.

Mr Gray said: “Tonight the SNP joined with the Tories to endorse Thatcherite reforms to Scotland’s school system. 

 “After a decade in charge of Scottish education, SNP minsters are harking back to Tory ideas of the late eighties for inspiration. These ‘reforms’ are more about emasculating local government than they are about empowering teachers. 

 “The major problem with our schools system is funding. There aren’t enough teachers in our schools, there are too many pupils per classroom and there isn’t enough investment in our young people. “