My Responses to the Scottish Government’s Excellence and Equity Education Governance Review Jan 2017.
“What is the question to which new governance arrangements are the answer??”
1. What are the strengths of the current governance arrangements of Scottish education?
The interests of children and young people are central to the current governance arrangements of Scottish education. These arrangements facilitate the essential interconnectivity of services supporting children and young people.
Head teachers and teachers are able to focus on the core job of learning and teaching, curriculum development and improving outcomes for each individual child and young person. They are able to work locally with the groups involved in children’s services to meet the needs of the pupils in their schools.
Head teachers and teachers are able to form working partnerships with the parent body to support the agreed development of their school. They can foster links with the wider community to enable the school to play a role in the local area, which in turn brings many benefits to the pupils. Schools can be responsive to the local economic and social environment.
Within the current arrangements, pupils can have a voice in the development of their own learning environment through a pupil forum or council. Empowering and involving young people at the school level in this way fosters a positive ethos and the co-operation needed for effective learning, while also developing the skills of the young people.
Local Authorities currently provide a key role in the support and challenge of schools. Schools continue to improve attainment and outcomes for pupils, and benefit from the quality assurance and improvement approaches offered by Local Authorities. Head Teachers appreciate the support provided by officers, including wider teams in Legal, Human Resources, Information Technology and Financial Services.
Local authorities are able to support collaboration where it is seen to meet local need and professional development, and where it drives improvement. This collaboration, based on trust and a commonly shared goal, is effective because it is established locally, is flexible and is adapted to meet local circumstance.
The ultimate purpose of the current governance arrangements is to support individual pupils and it does this effectively.
2. What are the barriers within the current governance arrangements to achieving the vision of excellence and equity for all?
The current governance arrangements have not created any barriers to achieving the vision of excellence and equity for all.
The barriers come rather from the difficulties of teacher recruitment due to a lack of effective work-force planning and from continued financial pressures due to cuts to the local government budget. Changing the system of governance would cause disruption and uncertainty, but would not address the real issues. It therefore would not improve excellence and equity for all.
Currently an effective balance is achieved between school decisions and Local Authority support in a number of ways including Devolved School Management (DSM). This allows decisions to be made at the appropriate level and to make the most effective use of resources which best suit local circumstances. Schools are empowered to make decisions about learning and teaching of an individual child and also about the overall school community in the design of Curriculum for Excellence.
Excellence and equity for all can be developed where multi-agency working with other services is supported as it is now. Interventions based on data and information can benefit individual children and families.
3. Should the key principles below underpin our approach to reform?
This question pre-supposes that reform to governance arrangements is needed to deliver excellence and equity for all. I do not agree with that view.
The current system is already based on meeting all but one of the principles above, and that should continue.
More clarity is however needed on the principle of “a simple and transparent funding system to ensure the maximum public benefit and best value for money.”
Transparency is of course important, but with our schools varying greatly in size, financial context and current condition, it is difficult to see how any funding system can be simple or indeed how one funding system could be adequate. Rural schools have a totally different context for delivering the curriculum than large city schools. Early learning and childcare presents particular challenges in rural areas. Giving pupils an opportunity to learn about the world of work creates different demands on rural schools away from centres of employment and at a distance from universities and colleges.
Some schools are currently centres of enhanced provision and others are not, creating different funding requirements.
The needs of looked after children and the responsibilities of corporate parenting could be given less prominence if there was just one simple funding system.
In addition, it is questionable whether one simple funding system would be able to deal adequately and fairly with staff costs.
By working with the Local Authority and with other partners schools can deliver better outcomes for children, young people and families and can ensure that the key principles of our education system are adhered to.
4. What changes to governance arrangements are required to support decisions about children’s learning and school life being taken at school level?
No changes in the law are required.
Head Teachers are already officers of the Local Authority, and take decisions at school level while also maintaining their Authority role. Local Authorities are well placed to devolve responsibilities and resources to schools whilst continuing to provide valuable support and challenge.
Devolving responsibilities for Initial Teacher Training and the related workforce planning for teachers to Local Authorities (or regions) would help address one of the current barriers to excellence and equity for all.
There are requirements to operate within national frameworks (e.g. terms and conditions of teachers are determined by Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), class size maxima, Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 ) which must be maintained.
Although the principle of parental involvement and involvement of children and young people in decision making is already followed and is positive, there is a danger that increasing the role of parents still further will create more inequalities, as some parents find it increasingly difficult to engage. It would be our most vulnerable pupils who would be most likely to suffer.
5. What services and support should be delivered by schools? What responsibilities should be devolved to teachers and head teachers to enable this? You may wish to provide examples of decisions currently taken by teachers or head teachers and decisions which cannot currently be made at school level.
Schools, through head teachers and teachers, currently have responsibility for leading teaching and learning to meet the needs of their individual pupils.
Head Teachers are already responsible for significant aspects of leadership and management including the overall implementation of Curriculum for Excellence in each school, as well as decisions regarding overall approaches to learning and teaching, management of devolved resources, approaches to raising attainment, self-evaluation, quality assurance and working with parents and partners.
Head teachers already work locally with GIRFEC (Getting It Right for Every Child) teams so that they can access the appropriate support for pupils in their schools.
The Head Teachers, with whom I have spoken, do not wish to be responsible for all financial accountability or for all aspects service delivery, rather they wish to focus on their professional skills in leading learning in schools.
The 2012 Devolved School Management Guidelines provide an excellent basis to informing which budget should and should not be devolved. This should be the starter for any change to devolving budgets and would be important to work with school representatives (and wider school community and Local Negotiating Committee for Teachers) to ensure appropriate support is in place.
There would be huge risks in creating further layers of bureaucracy or in devolving further unfamiliar responsibilities to teachers and head teachers. The focus for schools should be on prioritising teaching and learning and on creating the environment in which this can best happen.
6. How can children, parents, communities, employers, colleges, universities and others play a stronger role in school life? What actions should be taken to support this?
Many parents choose to play a strong role in school life and their contributions are valued. Local Authorities make strenuous efforts to effectively engage with all families, particularly those who have not traditionally contributed to such activities. There is a need to develop more creative approaches.
I have found no evidence that parents wish to be directly in control of schools.
Locally in Aberdeenshire, we are developing a Pupil Participation Forum which is giving pupils a stronger role in their schools. The next stage would be to develop this so that pupils also have a stronger role at local authority level.
In Aberdeenshire, there is already very good practice in engagement with universities, North East Scotland College, community groups and other partners. Curriculum for Excellence and Developing the Young Workforce has supported such developments, as has GIRFEC in providing both strategic and local planning approaches.
There would be benefits from allowing universities and local authorities to work together more on local work-force planning.
A new system of governance is not needed.
7. How can the governance arrangements support more community-led early learning and childcare provision particularly in remote and rural areas?
The challenges in providing early learning and childcare in remote and rural areas are that numbers of users accessing childcare provision are low and so the unit costs are higher. The communities in these areas are also smaller.
It is not therefore governance arrangements which prevent community-led initiatives, but basic capacity and finance.
8. How can effective collaboration amongst teachers and practitioners be further encouraged and incentivised?
Teachers and practitioners do not need to be encouraged and incentivised to collaborate.
Staff have for a long time taken opportunities to work across clusters on ideas to improve learning within all classrooms across the Local Authority.
If we could overcome the problems of teacher recruitment through developing local work-force planning, there would be more opportunities for effective collaboration as there would be more time available.
9. What services and support functions could be provided more effectively through clusters of schools working together with partners?
Clusters of schools already work together with partners to provide services and support functions.
Local authorities support this work.
No change in governance is needed.
10. What services or functions are best delivered at a regional level? This may include functions or services currently delivered at a local or a national level.
Aberdeenshire already works in an effective regional grouping. The Northern Alliance of Local Authorities has forged strong, collaborative links to support a wide range of developments where a more efficient and effective way of developing key priorities for mutual benefit has proved to be positive and continues to develop well. Areas around curriculum development for instance in literacy, professional learning of Head Teachers and central officers, a focus on workforce planning and early years development has demonstrated that Local Authorities can work in effective partnerships without changing governance arrangements.
Collaboration requires a flexible approach to ensure that positive outcomes for children and young people is the priority. This will increasingly include the partnership working within the wider children’s services, social work and health. Local Authorities will continue to have accountability and a statutory responsibility and regional working supports this duty. The approach taken by authorities in the north and north east is to work together collaboratively on areas which bring about Best Value and contribute to the functions of local authorities to provide the educational function in their area.
Imposing a one size fits all regional structure will not bring about collaboration. Regional structures should be allowed to evolve naturally, locally, and be based on existing relationships.
No change in governance is required
11. What factors should be considered when establishing new educational regions?
See response to Q.10.
New educational regions should not be established, but, rather, be allowed to grow.
Educational regions that do evolve need to include wider children’s services and further and higher education, if they are to effectively address excellence and equity for all. The structural organisation of local authorities is such that education cannot be singled out from the wider system.
The success of existing regional collaborations has been rooted in organic growth, flexibility and adaptability. This cannot be achieved by arbitrarily imposed regional borders or externally determined priorities.
Geographical collaboration is not the only model likely to be effective.
Being a member of one collaborative grouping should not mean that an authority cannot be a member of another.
Continued local accountability is essential. Collaborative partnerships must be accountable to local authorities who have the statutory responsibility for the delivery of services, as well as answerability to the electorate.
Increased collaboration requires resources to be considered in different ways. Funding being given to individual schools does not support regional collaboration.
12. What services or support functions should be delivered at a national level?
The services and support functions which should be delivered at national level are:
National qualifications, currently delivered through the SQA.
Support for the teaching profession and professional standards, delivered through the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), although work-force planning should be delivered locally.
Inspection of education, through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIe).
Getting It Right For Every Child approaches require a national direction, but must be reflected in local community planning and locality developments to ensure that multi-disciplinary work reflects the needs of local communities.
Support functions like those currently operated through Education Scotland, could be more appropriate at regional level.
Developing the Young Workforce works well on a regional basis recognising local economic and employability contexts.
13. How should governance support teacher education and professional learning in order to build the professional capacity we need?
The current arrangements where Local Authorities can support the professional development and staff are important to reinforce. A comprehensive range of training and support is provided through a combination of Local Authority professional development programmes and strategies, as well as access to wider training and development which is delivered by national bodies and other organisations.
Whilst there is a professional benefit in having a qualification for Head Teachers, there is also the potential for some able staff to be dissuaded from becoming Head Teachers if the qualification is mandatory. In Aberdeenshire, it is already challenging to recruit quality Head Teachers and the imposition of a qualification of this nature could ironically be a deterrent.
Teacher education does not necessarily mean the brightest and best should take a management role. A system which allows our best teachers to influence at local and regional level would be ideal, but the present system of reward does not allow this to happen
14. Should the funding formula for schools be guided by the principles that it should support excellence and equity, be fair, simple, transparent, predictable and deliver value for money? Should other principles be used to inform the design of the formula?
One funding formula for schools across Scotland cannot be effective due to varying local circumstances and contexts.
There is a danger that this approach would result in significant effort considering inputs and impact on individual authorities/schools, to the detriment of improving outcomes.
Local authorities should allocate the education budget for which they are democratically accountable on the principles of supporting excellence and equity, being fair, transparent, predictable and delivering value for money, while acknowledging that this allocation cannot be simple.
Local authorities will need to be mindful of pupil roll and the need for appropriate adjustments to reflect deprivation, looked after children , the requirements of pupils with additional support needs and local circumstance.
There are dangers associated with micro management of Local Authority function as this may have unintended consequences in the context of wider excellence and equity ambitions.
15. What further controls over funding should be devolved to school level?
The DSM 2012 Guidelines provide the basis for considering which budgets should be devolved, not least by applying a key principle of subsidiarity. Head Teachers and communities in each area should be actively engaged in this discussion.
There should also be differentiation based on size of school e.g. while all staffing budgets, including supply, can be devolved in secondary schools this would not be appropriate in a small primary school, not least due to the risk associated with staff absence/vacancy management.
In practical terms, there is nothing to prevent most, if not all, budgets being devolved under existing arrangements.
There is no change in governance required.
16. How could the accountability arrangements for education be improved?
Local elected members are already responsible for scrutinising the work of the education authority and holding it to account and should remain so.
Encouraging political parties to increase the diversity of local candidates for election, to ensure a better representation across the community, could bring benefits to the scrutiny process.
Schools and Head Teachers currently are accountable to parents and local communities, with the support and challenge of Local Authorities providing a clear structure and quality assurance role.
Head Teachers are senior officers of the Local Authority and should remain so. More support should be given to the role that Local Authorities play in creating a strategic oversight of priorities which are developed in partnership with key professionals in schools and other services.
17. Is there anything else you would like to add regarding the governance of education in Scotland?
It does not answer the key challenges which Scottish education is currently facing, including the available budget and teacher recruitment.
It does not acknowledge the professionalism of teachers as leaders of teaching and learning.
It contains several leading questions which are not conducive to effective consultation.
By singling out education as a factor for review, it risks jeopardising the more holistic approach of education and children’s services that has developed over the last ten years, to the benefit of individual children and young people.
Children do not come to the classroom equal in opportunity. As much of 80% of a child’s performance is attributable to factors out of school such as the influence of parents (including parental expectation), the family and neighbourhood environments. A multi-agency, holistic approach which puts the child at the centre is needed to address all of the contributors to attainment. This governance review does not provide for that.
Local democratic accountability for education and children’s services is essential.