School reforms warning issued by educational charity

Education minister John Swinney. Picture: John Devlin
Education minister John Swinney. Picture: John Devlin
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AN educational charity has said it has “serious reservations” about the proposed timescale for implementing school reforms.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) warned against repeating the “past mistakes” of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) by introducing the measures too quickly and with insufficient consultation.

In an advice paper, the organisation welcomed the actions set out by Education Secretary John Swinney to close the attainment gap in Scottish schools but said the “ambitious” changes must take into account the capacity of the school system - and particularly teachers - to respond.

RSE said it was concerned that “very short timescales” for some of the proposals in Mr Swinney’s delivery plan would not allow enough time for teachers and others to be properly consulted.

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“We have serious reservations about the manageability of the plan within the stated timescales and fears that inadequate time will be devoted to consultation, securing buy-in and giving teachers the opportunity to reflect on the implications of the many actions for their work,” the paper said.

It added: “An overriding criticism of the implementation of CfE and the national qualifications is that there has been too much guidance material and not enough time for practitioners to reflect upon the key developments to inform their own practice.

“In order to guard against repeating past mistakes, it will be important to ensure that the delivery plan is able to find a balance between unreasonable delay and over-rapid introduction that does not have appropriate resources and preparation.”

The Scottish Government proposals include devolving funding and more decision-making to schools and communities, as well as transferring some of the legal responsibility for delivering education which currently rests with local councils to schools.

RSE welcomed the intention behind the proposals but said no reference had been made in the plan to the constraints such as staffing facing head teachers.

The paper said: “These include: the current position whereby the local authority, not the school, is the teachers’ employer; teachers’ pay and conditions of service being determined by national bargaining; and the Scottish Government and local authorities’ commitment to maintaining a pupil-teacher ratio nationally.

“These national arrangements have implications not only for local authority-school accountability, but also for the extent to which individual schools (or clusters) can be innovative and diverse in their decision making.

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“As well as these system constraints, consideration will need to be given to the extent to which school leaders will be prepared to embrace greater decision-making responsibilities and to the support they will require.”

RSE said giving schools greater legal standing could help strengthen their autonomy but added: “Close attention will need to be given to matters of how schools would be held to account for the education decisions which they make.”

The paper was published before a meeting of Cosla’s education, children and young people executive group at which the delivery plan is due to be discussed.

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