Education governance – next steps: executive summary

Summary of the Government's vision of an education system which is led by schools and teachers.

Chapter 2: Review of current governance system

Key points

There was widespread support for the current governance system and an apprehension towards further change within the system - there is ' no need to fix something that is not broken'.

On the whole, respondents did not see current governance arrangements as a barrier for improvement and that changing them was not expected to address the deep-seated issues that get in the way of achieving excellence and equity for all. Overall, respondents tended to say that the case for significant change had not been made.

Generally, respondents advocated improvements to concentrate on processes rather than structures (often citing the OECD for support). Specifically, respondents thought that budget cuts and staffing issues were the two key barriers for improvement.

In terms of governance, respondents highlighted the following as areas for improvement:

  • Promoting greater use of joined-up approaches at national, authority, schools and practitioner levels;
  • A lack of consistency in regards to school devolution across local authorities; and
  • A desire for greater control at a school level over their staff.

The consultation document asked respondents at the beginning of the process to state what they thought were the strengths and barriers of the current governance arrangements. The document also suggested a range of principles that should underpin the education system and asked respondents their views on the principles.

2.1 Strengths of the current governance arrangements in Scottish education

The analysis of the consultation responses showed that there was widespread support for the current governance system amongst both organisations and individuals. Respondents generally believed that the current governance system was well embedded and understood. The balance of responsibilities at national, local and school levels, and the partnerships between these levels, were seen by individuals as a key strength of the current governance arrangements.

Generally, respondents stated that governance arrangements support a common national approach with due regard to local circumstances. They felt that it enabled schools to reflect distinctive identities and ethos whilst remaining part of a common 'family' of public education across Scotland.

The role of local authorities, in particular, was highlighted by many respondents as a strength. Within this, strengths of local authorities mentioned by respondents were:

  • Support and services provided to schools and headteachers;
  • Level of autonomy, through DSM;
  • Readily accessible staff; and
  • Clear policies and procedures (specifically HR, payroll, and legal services).

Organisations highlighted the emphasis placed on education by the current Government as a strength. The focus on closing the attainment gap was particularly welcomed by most organisations.

However, many organisations and some individuals stated that schools alone cannot deliver systemic change in the way envisaged unless accompanied by changes in health provision, housing and employment and a more general 'joined-up' approach. Local government emphasised their role in co-ordinating a range of local services that can address pupil circumstances.

Some other strengths of the system highlighted by respondents were:

  • The role of national bodies, particularly General Teaching Council for Scotland ( GTCS);
  • Accountability arrangements, particularly local democratic accountability through elected councillors;
  • The role played by school leaders in general; and
  • Some organisations named specific policies as a strength in the system, such as Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), Getting It Right For Every Child ( GIRFEC) and Developing Scotland's Young Workforce ( DSYW).

However, it should be noted that while the above features were highlighted as strengths by some respondents, similar areas were raised as concerns by others. In particular, barriers around the role of national bodies were identified. These are explored further throughout the rest of the report.

2.2 Barriers within the current governance arrangements

When respondents were asked about the main barriers in the system, a large majority of organisations and individuals stated that current governance arrangements were not a barrier and that changing these would not address the deep-seated issues that get in the way of achieving excellence and equity for all.

There were, however, general governance issues within the system that came through strongly across responses:

  • Lack of a joined-up approach. Specifically, some organisations felt that the principal barrier was ensuring whole-system cohesion at national, authority, school and practitioner levels, both within and between different levels. Organisations generally appreciated that the level of joined-up collaboration varied across local authorities. One organisation stated that: Achieving a vision of excellence, inclusion and equity for all requires a consistent common purpose at all levels so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Lack of consistency. Overall, both organisations and individuals saw the role played by local authorities as a strength, however respondents felt that all 32 local authorities have their own policies and procedures and that there were significant disparities in what is provided for each child in Scotland and the level of devolved responsibilities to schools.
  • Staff management. Many respondents criticised the lack of control currently available over their own staff. Most wished for greater powers in terms of staff management; especially the ability to recruit their own staff and to deal with under-performing members of the team.
  • Bureaucracy and administrative duties falling upon teachers and head teachers as a result of inspection and assessment demands from various levels of governance. This was recognised by some individual respondents in particular. An example cited was the fact that early education has to respond to two inspection systems under Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate.

The majority of barriers cited by both organisations and individuals, however, were outwith governance issues and related in particular to two key areas:

  • Limited budgets/austerity. This point was raised by many individual respondents who, for example, would like to see more focus on limited budgets and large class sizes than on governance arrangements.
  • Other staff-related issues such as workloads, lack of support staff, teacher shortages and lack of management staff. Although not referred to in the consultation, stress and workload issues amongst teachers came out very strongly in many individual responses.

2.3 Appetite for governance change

The analysis of consultation responses showed a lack of appetite for a governance change amongst both organisations and individuals. 'There is no need to fix something that is not broken' was a common theme across responses. Only a few respondents explicitly welcomed governance change.

Many respondents felt that the education system had gone through major changes in recent years, particularly around the introduction of CfE, and did not welcome any further changes. One organisation described the education system as suffering from 'innovation fatigue'.

Organisational respondents asked for improvements to be made through processes rather than structures, many mentioning the budget cuts that affected workloads and staff management the most. Many quoted the OECD paper 'Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD perspective' to stress the argument that structural changes were not needed and that improvements should be around the processes that underpin the system instead.

There was a concern, amongst organisations in particular, that decentralisation may result in an increased variation across the system, resulting in a reduction of performance across the system as a whole.

Respondents also felt that devolving further responsibilities to schools without a parallel increase in management staff would only exacerbate the current issues of staff shortages and excessive workload, burdening head teachers in particular. This is explored further in Chapter 6.

2.4 Agreement with principles

The consultation document suggested a set of key principles to underpin the Scottish education system. Respondents were asked whether they agreed with the principles and which others should be applied.

The discussion document stated that our education system must:

  • be focused on improving outcomes, and support the delivery of excellence and equity for children and young people;
  • meet the needs of all our children and young people, no matter where they live or their family circumstances;
  • support and empower children and young people, parents, teachers, practitioners and communities;
  • be supported by a simple and transparent funding system to ensure the maximum public benefit and best value for money;
  • support children and young people to make smooth transitions into formal learning, through school and into further education, training or employment.

66% of respondents agreed with the principles stated. However, a large majority of these respondents used the question about 'other principles' to qualify their agreement, or to challenge certain aspects of the proposed principles, as well as to suggest additional principles.

Some recurrent concerns expressed were:

  • Organisations, in particular, stated that the principles were not new. Some thought that teachers and the system as a whole was striving towards these already;
  • There was strong opposition amongst a number of respondents to the concept of 'value for money'. The general sense was that what is good value for a business might not always be applicable in a child or family-orientated environment; and
  • Further clarity was requested around some concepts, specifically 'excellence', 'equity', 'empowerment' and 'transparency', which were found to be quite generic. Individual respondents focused particularly on further clarity and detail in the principles, with many of those who commented on them viewing them as being too high-level.


Email: Stephanie Gray

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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