Education governance – next steps: Education Secretary's statement

Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney addresses Parliament on the new strategy for schools-led education governance.

This Government was elected last year on a platform of radical and bold action to make Scottish education world class, for all our young people. That commitment has driven the changes we have already made and it drives the reforms we now propose.

In particular, we pledged to 'give more power and resources direct to schools, to put teachers, parents and communities in the driving seat of school improvement'.

Today, with the publication of our 'Next Steps' paper on school reform, we make good on that pledge. The aim is to deliver excellence and equity by raising the bar for all and closing the attainment gap.

A simple, powerful premise sits at the heart of our proposals: that the best decisions about a child's education are taken by the people who know that child best – their parents, their teachers, their school and their community.

We are determined to build an education system from the classroom out. We will reform the system so that the key decisions in a child's education are taken by our schools.

Schools will be free to improve learning and teaching, making decisions as they think best within a broad national framework.

All other parts of the education system will share a collective responsibility and work within a strong framework to support schools to succeed.

We have excellent teachers who are hardworking and committed to raising attainment for all.

Many children and young people fulfil their potential. Exam results are very good and improving, and the overwhelming majority of young people leave school to go into a job, training or continue their studies.

We have a strong curriculum which has the needs of children and young people at its centre.

These strengths do not, however, mask the challenges that we face.

There is still too much bureaucracy generating unnecessary workload for our teachers. We remain committed to freeing teachers to teach, and continue to work with their professional associations on further steps we can take to achieve this.

We fully recognise the message of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) results. They reveal the significant hurdles to be overcome if we are to make progress on raising the bar and closing the attainment gap.

We can, and we must, achieve more.

That is why we embarked on a programme of reform. The National Improvement Framework and the Attainment Fund have laid the foundations for what I am setting out today. In particular the Pupil Equity Fund has put £120 million directly in the hands of our headteachers.

When we launched the governance review last September we set out to engage directly with teachers, practitioners, parents and professional bodies across Scotland.

I would like to formally place on the Parliamentary record how grateful I am to the many individuals we spoke to and for the written responses we received. I am also publishing our analysis of those responses today.

No one will be surprised to hear that many of the responses from within the education system argued against change.

But very few respondents expressed satisfaction with the status quo, and many respondents expressed real concern about elements of the current system.

We also examined a wide range of evidence to inform our approach, including from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Council of Education Advisors and from children and young people in Scotland themselves.

Advice from the International Council has been clear – to improve our education system we must tackle culture, capacity and structure, and I am taking a blended approach to address all three.

The centrepiece of these reforms is a package of sweeping new powers for schools so that education is led by teachers, parents and communities.

We will put the power to directly change lives into the hands of those with the expertise and insight to target resources at the greatest need.

Schools have the expertise and insight to target resources to greater effect. So they will be responsible for attainment, delivering improvement and transforming children's lives.

This will be supported by a new structure with three key pillars:

  • enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers
  • improvement services delivered by new regional collaboratives
  • support services from councils

The evidence is clear that the strength and quality of the leadership in our schools is crucial to delivering improvement.

We know that headteachers want to focus on the delivery of learning and teaching, not to be chief administrators of their school.

We will therefore give headteachers more power over decisions on learning and teaching, freeing them to make a real difference to the lives of children and young people.

At the heart of this will be a statutory Headteachers' Charter. Headteachers will:

  • be the leaders of learning in their schools, responsible for raising attainment and closing the attainment gap
  • be free to select and manage the teachers and staff in their school
  • be free to determine their own school management and staffing structure
  • decide on curriculum content
  • directly control a significantly increased proportion of school funding

International evidence shows that involving parents, families and communities fully in schools improves attainment. So that is what we will do.

We will enhance Parent Councils, and modernise and strengthen the legislation on parental involvement to enable all parents to play a role in their local school and particularly in their children's learning.

And, to ensure that schools interact more effectively with families who find it difficult to engage, every school will have access to a home-to-school worker to make and maintain such links.

Children and young people must be at the heart of our education system, and we will strengthen their voice through more effective and consistent pupil participation.

Parents should be involved in the wider running of schools, and we have seen an increased desire for autonomy in the proposals that have been put to us, including from St Joseph's Primary in Milngavie.

As part of the governance review, we have carefully considered each application on its merits. I recognise what these parents are trying to achieve for their schools and their children, but I am acutely conscious that schools also need support frameworks to function well.

The reforms I am setting out today will significantly increase the autonomy of our schools, the role of parents in school life and will ensure our schools are rooted in their communities. Crucially, however, our reforms deliver this within a clear national and local framework of policy and support. That collaborative approach is a key strength of the Scottish system and critical to improving attainment and closing the attainment gap.

I therefore cannot agree to pursue the specific proposals from parents at St Joseph's and elsewhere as they would remove schools from that crucial support structure. I consider, however, that we are delivering on the autonomy and increased parental involvement that lies behind many people's support for these plans.

Schools will lead but they must have the support they require to succeed.

So we will back them with a new support structure around the three pillars I mentioned earlier.

The first pillar – enhanced professional development and career opportunities for teachers – will see teachers strongly supported throughout their careers.

Professional learning and collaboration are key to this.

We will streamline and enhance professional learning so that there is a coherent learning offer to teachers. Improved support through collaborative practice in new regional models and school clusters will also significantly build the capacity of teachers.

We also know that some teachers have been frustrated at the lack of opportunities to progress in their careers. So we will work with the profession to design new career pathways to develop and reward leadership skills, pedagogic expertise and subject specialities.

And we will undertake reforms to Initial Teacher Education to ensure new teachers are well prepared, with consistently well-developed skills to teach key areas such as literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.

Finally, we will continue to develop new routes into teaching that attract a broader range of high quality graduates, including in priority areas and subjects.

A formal procurement process will shortly begin for new routes into teaching. But I can be clear today that any new route into teaching will require to meet the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) tests, including a partnership with a university to maintain credibility and academic rigour.

This Government will not remove this crucial guarantee of the quality of teaching in Scotland.

We recognise that the success of a school and teacher-led system rests on the availability of the right support – support that is not currently available consistently.

We must build the capacity for educational improvement within the system by putting in place the second pillar – a revolutionised offer of support and improvement.

We will establish regional improvement collaboratives to pool and strengthen resources to support learning and teaching in Scotland's schools.

Led by a new Regional Director, reporting to the Chief Inspector of Education, these collaboratives will provide educational improvement support through dedicated teams of professionals. These teams will draw on Education Scotland staff, local authority staff and others.

They will facilitate collaborative working, sharing best practice, supporting collaborative networks and partnership approaches tailored to their local area. I welcome the steps that have already been taken by some local authorities to embrace this approach, and we will work with local government to expand and deepen this work.

These collaboratives will provide a coherent focus across all parts of the system through an annual regional plan for educational improvement aligned with the National Improvement Framework.

We know that our teachers want to constantly improve, for the simple reason of wanting to do better for our children – this will help them do that.

The third pillar of support will be delivered exclusively by local government. Local authorities will retain a vital role in our education system, with responsibility for a wide range of education support services, including:

  • the number and catchment areas of schools in their area
  • the provision of denominational and Gaelic medium schools
  • the administration of placing and admissions procedures, including for children with additional support needs
  • the provision of back-office support services such as HR
  • securing excellent headteachers for the schools in their area

Taken together this is a crucial role for councils in ensuring schools have the support framework and services they need. By retaining this important local accountability, we retain vital democratic accountability for the leadership of Scotland's schools.

Councils will also have new statutory duties – a new duty to collaborate to support improvement on a regional basis, to provide staff (including headteachers and teachers) to work within the regional improvement collaborative, in partnership with other local authorities and national agencies.

An empowered system, underpinned by collaborative working and a strong improvement support function, will operate within a clear national framework. The Scottish Government and national bodies have a key role to play in this regard.

As part of these reforms, Education Scotland will undergo significant change, with strengthened inspection and improvement functions. These functions will remain together, with inspection acting as a crucial tool that supports the system-wide goal of continuous improvement.

We will give Education Scotland a renewed focus on professional learning and leadership, providing clarity and coherence to the national landscape. This will incorporate the functions of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership and will be delivered via the new regional improvement collaboratives. This will mean that hands-on advice, support and guidance can flow directly to more schools to support improvement. We know that current support can either feel inconsistent or distant and we must reverse that.

As Parliament will be aware, Bill Maxwell, the chief executive of Education Scotland, is retiring on 30 June. I can confirm that, on an interim basis, Karen Reid, Chief Executive of the Care Inspectorate, will lead both organisations, supported by Graeme Logan as Interim Chief Inspector and Chief Education Adviser. The process for the appointment of a permanent Chief Inspector of Education, who will also lead Education Scotland and be my principal Education adviser, will start in the summer.

One of the strengths of our education system is that we have national teacher professional standards underpinned by a national registration scheme. We recognise that there are many other professionals, such as education support staff, who play a key role in educating our children and supporting our teachers, but are not currently part of a national registration scheme. We will therefore consult on establishing an Education Workforce Council for Scotland which will take on the responsibilities of the GTCS, the Community Learning and Development Standards Council and register other education professionals.

To support these system-wide changes, we must have an approach to funding which ensures that control over resources for schools sits with schools. The consultation on fair funding I am publishing today seeks views on how we can achieve that. As our proposals make clear, I have ruled out the development of a fixed national funding formula.

It is clear that the reforms I have set out today cannot be delivered by Government alone. They will require partnership working, shared effort and real focus on delivering change in every part of the system. I commit the Government to active engagement with our local authority partners, the professional associations, and with other stakeholders to take forward this agenda. I also acknowledge that the Government does not command a majority in this Parliament, so we will work with other parties to build agreement around these reforms. Some changes can be delivered without legislation and we will work with partners to deliver these quickly. For changes that need legislation, we will bring forward an Education Governance Bill in 2018.

At the heart of all our reforms is a simple plan.

We will free our teachers to teach. We will put new powers in the hands of our headteachers. We will ensure that parents, families and communities play a bigger role in school life and in their children's learning.

And we will all – Government, councils and agencies – support our schools to do what they do best: transform the life chances of our children.

This must be the vision of all of us for the future of Scotland's schools.


Email: – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
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