Education governance – next steps

Scottish Government’s vision for education and the reforms we will take forward following the review of education governance.

2. The Case for Change

2.1 Context

We have a good education system with hardworking, committed teachers, early years practitioners, other learning professionals and support staff. There are many aspects of Scottish education to be proud of and we have strong foundations on which to build and achieve our vision. This was endorsed by the OECD in their report Improving Schools in Scotland (2015) [25] . Our teachers feel a deep sense of purpose and responsibility to give every child in Scotland the best education; we need to give them more freedom and to acknowledge this level of responsibility through reforming governance and decision making. The case for change is about moving towards a school and teacher-led system and simplifying the support and improvement services which are built around the needs of schools. More decisions need to be taken at school level, based on the needs of children in each community. There is a range of evidence and research to support this principle. For example, The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland ( ADES) state in their 2017 report Towards a Learning System [26] that:

" the delivery approach must be flexible and responsive, taking account of local circumstances and drawing on a range of major stakeholders who are supportive of Scottish education. It should be an uncomplicated model but one that has sufficient sophistication to be able to flex to meet differing needs. . . At the heart of this endeavour is our desire to have a confident, reflective, self-improving school system where the responsibility for improvement is increasingly set at school rather than local authority level".

Curriculum for Excellence places the child at the centre of education, and empowers teachers to develop and deliver a curriculum which suits the needs of each individual child or young person. We need to empower every teacher and school to make full use of the flexibility within Curriculum for Excellence if it is to deliver the learning and teaching that every child needs. More decisions about the curriculum need to be taken by teachers locally. The OECD confirmed this in their review: [27]

"Curriculum for Excellence needs to be less managed from the centre and become more a dynamic, highly equitable curriculum being built constantly in schools, networks and communities with a strengthened 'middle' in a vision of collective responsibility".

We are committed to putting children and young people at the heart of the services that support them. Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) is our national approach to ensure that everyone works together to improve a child's outcomes.

The National Improvement Framework sets a strategic direction for education which aligns with the evidence of the OECD, recognising that both school leadership and teacher professionalism are key drivers of improvement. Through the Scottish Attainment Challenge and the new Pupil Equity Fund we are targeting resources to those who need it most.

A review by the National Parent Forum of Scotland [28] concluded that the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 has helped to support a "step-change" in the quality of parental involvement across Scotland. We are also investing in our Developing the Young Workforce programme to support young people to moving into employment and training.

Our investment in universally accessible and high-quality early learning and childcare should equip children with skills and confidence to carry into their schooling and help close the poverty-related attainment gap which we know begins in the early years. The expansion of free early learning and childcare, to 1,140 hours a year for all 3 and 4 year olds, and eligible 2 year olds, represents one of the most significant expansions of the education system in recent times. The Minister for Childcare and Early Years made a policy statement to Parliament on 23 March 2017 [29] which sets out a vision for an early learning and childcare system based on the principles of quality, flexibility, accessibility and affordability. The Scottish Government is working in close collaboration with all its partners to deliver this vision, and the Governance Review provides a further context and framework within which current and future provision will operate. The findings of this review, and the actions as they relate to early learning and childcare, will therefore be integrated into the joint working groups established to deliver the expansion programme.

2.2 Performance and the attainment gap

The majority of young people are performing well under Curriculum for Excellence - at least 80% of pupils are achieving third level or better in literacy and numeracy by the end of S3 [30] . The number of Higher passes has risen by 29.8% since 2007 and passes at Advanced Higher have risen by 42.5% in the same period [31] .

A higher percentage of young people left school in 2014/15 for positive destinations than at any time on record [32] . The highest ever proportion of school leavers from the most deprived communities went on to a positive initial destination - 88.7%. We have seen annual increases in attainment. For example, the proportion of school leavers reaching at least SCQF Level 5 is up from 82.1% in 2011/12 to 87.1% in 2015/16 and there were a record high number of Advanced Higher passes (19,518) in 2016 [33] . In addition, more of our population is educated beyond school than in any other European country (47.8% tertiary educated) [34] .

The OECD (2015) [35] identified many strengths in our system: learners are enthusiastic and motivated; teachers are engaged; and professional and system leaders are highly committed. However, there are also significant challenges.

The latest results from the international study PISA [36] found that Scotland's overall performance declined in science and reading compared to 2012, and was unchanged in maths. Our relative performance compared to other countries has deteriorated across all three areas.

The SSLN monitors national performance in literacy and numeracy has shown a decline in numeracy (2011 to 2015) [37] and literacy (2012 to 2016) [38] .

Evidence also shows that there continues to be widespread variation in outcomes and in the performance of local authorities and schools. The current system is not achieving excellence and equity for all. Whilst we are seeing improvements, they are not fast enough or being driven effectively enough in all localities. There is clear evidence to support this within the Education Scotland 2017 report on Quality and Improvement in Scottish Education [39] which states:

" the quality of education children and young people experience within and across sectors is still too variable. Scottish education does not yet provide all children and young people with consistently high-quality learning experiences. Unless this variability is addressed we will not achieve the national ambition of excellence and equity for all learners."

The Accounts Commission report School Education (2014) [40] found that "whilst there has been improvement in performance over the last decade, there is significant variation in attainment between individual councils, schools, and groups of pupils... [and] ... some schools have achieved better attainment results than their levels of deprivation would indicate."

No matter what data we use, or which aspect of attainment we look at, there is a clear gap between children from more deprived and less deprived backgrounds. Whilst the gap has narrowed on many measures in recent years, there is clearly more to do. This is not a situation that anyone should continue to accept.

The Government has recognised this challenge and we have already taken a number of steps to tackle this gap and drive improvement in the system. This includes the introduction of the National Improvement Framework, the Scottish Attainment Challenge and establishing the Pupil Equity Fund. The expansion of early learning and childcare and our commitment to provide an additional graduate in nurseries in Scotland's most deprived areas by August 2018 will also make an important contribution.

However, we must do more. We cannot accept a situation where our educational performance is falling behind and an attainment gap exists based on background and geography. International evidence indicates that we can do more to close the poverty-related attainment gap and learn from other high-performing nations:

" countries such as Finland and Canada display strong overall performance and, equally important, show that a disadvantaged socioeconomic background does not necessarily result in poor performance at school" [41] .

2.3 Creating a school, teacher and practitioner-led system

We want to see more decisions about school life being driven by schools themselves. McKinsey's 2010 report [42] notes that there is a " striking correlation" between educational performance and the level of school empowerment. The OECD [43] state that " inherent in the principle of [Curriculum for Excellence] is the enhancement of the role that should be exercised by schools and teachers". Investing in the professionalism and autonomy of our teaching profession means trusting teachers to make the best decisions for our children and young people, within a broad, clear national framework.

However, our current education system does not always allow teachers, practitioners and headteachers to be the key decision makers. If we are to empower our schools, parents and communities there are a number of things we need to change. These are:

  • The legal framework and where decisions are taken. Under the current legislation the majority of the legal responsibilities for education sit with local authorities. This leads to differences across local authorities about the decisions which can be taken at a school level. The Accounts Commission found significant variation in attainment between individual local authorities. Responses to the Governance Review consultation highlighted a lack of consistency in relation to school devolution across local authorities [44] . This can have a significant impact on achieving excellence and equity; for example by taking a mandated approach to the number of subjects young people study in S4 across an entire education authority. This shuts down curriculum flexibility and decisions which should be taken for individual young people at school level.
  • Culture and capacity within the system. There is considerable variation in the level and quality of support provided to teachers, headteachers and parents. There is no clear and consistent framework of support for teachers to be able to build their professional skills or to support collaboration. The increased support for leadership capacity within the system has been welcomed but has highlighted the lack of support for professional learning. While there are good examples of engagement between schools, parents and communities this is not consistent and the recent review of parental involvement concluded that the role and function of parent councils need to be more clearly defined, protected and promoted.
  • Collaboration between local authorities and schools. We know that the level of performance and capacity varies across local authorities and across schools [45] and that system-wide collaboration could help to address this variation. There are some emerging examples of collaboration but this is not consistent. Responses to the Governance Review consultation highlight the need to promote greater use of joined-up approaches at a national, local, schools and practitioner level.
  • The way in which funding is distributed and staff are allocated to schools. The high proportion of fixed costs within school budgets means that while headteachers may nominally have budgetary control, in practice they have little or no flexibility to target resources as they might wish. Governance Review consultation responses highlighted a desire for greater control at a school level over their staff.
  • Too much bureaucracy means that teachers and headteachers spend too much of their time on paperwork and not enough time leading their schools and focusing on learning and teaching.

2.3.1 Legal framework and where decisions are taken

Legal responsibility for the delivery of education currently rests mainly with local authorities not with individual schools and teachers. While there are some requirements for local authorities to consult with headteachers when making strategic decisions, how this is done is at the discretion of the local authority. This can lead to a dependency or compliance culture in schools rather than one of empowerment. The introduction of the Pupil Equity Fund is beginning to change this. Headteachers have more power to decide what they need to do in their school to close the attainment gap, with local and national advice available to guide them.

Local authorities devolve decision making and funding to schools through Devolved School Management Schemes. Each local authority is obliged to have such a Scheme and this is supported by national guidelines. However, local authorities can determine which schools within their area are covered by the Scheme and the detailed provisions setting out accountability arrangements, the decisions schools and headteachers are able to take and the level and flexibility of control over funding at a school level. Again, this limits the ability of headteachers to make decisions.

The variability of approach across local authorities means that decisions which a headteacher is empowered to take in one authority are taken by the authority in another part of Scotland. This process is not transparent to parents or communities.

We know the benefits of supporting parental involvement in education. The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 aimed to provide a new approach to parental involvement. However, that framework is now over 10 years old and a review of the legislation undertaken by the National Parent Forum of Scotland ( NPFS) has identified substantial variation between local authorities in the approach taken to parental involvement and a need to strengthen the legislation to ensure a clear and strong role for parent councils in the life and work of their school [46] .

2.3.2 Culture and capacity

Headteachers, teachers and practitioners

The quality of teaching and the leadership of the school are the most important factors in improving a child's educational outcomes within schools. Curriculum for Excellence is based on the concept of the teacher as an empowered professional making curriculum decisions and leading learning within their classroom and school.

It is important that teachers and headteachers are empowered to take decisions as leaders of learning but also that they are supported in developing the skills and knowledge to secure improvement in their schools and classrooms. That is why the Government invested in Teaching Scotland's Future, our programme to support professional learning and leadership. We know that as a result of this programme [47] more teachers are engaged in professional learning. We also know that there are barriers which limit access. These include staff shortages, budget, and a lack of consistency and coherence in the current professional learning offer.

Professional learning should be supported by an annual professional review and development discussion and underpinned by Professional Update. We have heard real concerns that in too many cases these have become box-ticking processes rather than a genuine opportunity for professional reflection and an assurance that the entitlement and obligation to professional learning is being delivered.

We know that teachers value professional learning and would welcome a clearer framework and greater access to high-quality opportunities. The responsibility for the provision of professional support rests with the employer, and local authorities have traditionally also provided local improvement support to schools as part of their statutory responsibilities. We heard strong messages from teachers and headteachers that they value such local support but that it had been diluted both in terms of quality and quantity in recent years. There is also a real lack of subject-specific professional learning on offer within local authorities. It is clear that there is now a significant gap in the system.

While there has been a considerable focus on the skills and expertise of teachers and their leaders we should also recognise the crucial role played by the wider education workforce such as early years practitioners, classroom assistants, additional support for learning assistants and school librarians. Our " Skills Investment Plan: Prospectus for Scotland's Early Learning and Childcare Sector" [48] was published in March 2017 and through this we are already taking specific actions to increase the capacity and capability of early years practitioners. A Quality Action Plan for early learning and childcare, due for publication in October 2017, will identify what more needs to be done to ensure we maximise these skills.

Children and families

Parental involvement in their child's education covers a wide range of different interactions, from engagement in their own child's learning through home learning; formal communication with the school such as reports and parents' evenings; volunteering at school events; and more formal engagement through the parent council. It is important that we do not see parental engagement solely through the prism of involvement with the parent council. There is clear evidence [49] that children whose parents are engaged and interested in their school activities tend to perform better at school and are less likely to report feeling lonely or dissatisfied. The OECD, drawing on research by Epstein, concluded that " student learning is most effective when it is the result of a partnership between the school, teachers, parents and the community" [50] .

Scottish parents show variable levels of engagement compared to other OECD countries. In Scotland the level of parental engagement is higher than the OECD average but significant numbers of parents (18%) reported that their participation in school was hindered by inconvenient meeting times and difficulty getting time off work [51] . We also know that there are socioeconomic differences in the levels of engagement. Growing up in Scotland 2012 [52] looked at the levels of parental engagement and the role teachers play in encouraging this and found differences in both the levels of engagement and the perceived level of advice. A further Growing Up in Scotland report, published in 2016, [53] concluded that children living in advantaged circumstances were more likely to undertake frequent home learning activities than children living in less advantaged circumstances. This doesn't mean that families in low income households are less interested - it may be due to a lack of access to the connections and advice available to higher income households, and it may be due to negative experiences of school when young.

Responses to the Governance Review consultation, particularly from parents of children with additional support needs, suggest there are elements of the current system which need to be addressed [54] . This includes a desire for improved communication with parents about the operation of the education system including on roles, responsibilities and accountability.

While there is a substantial amount of information and routes to engagement available to parents, it is evident that these are often challenging and confusing. Having a clear understanding of the whole system in a simple and easily accessible way would help parents to engage more positively.


Learning does not stop at the school gate. Communities, businesses, third sector groups, youth work, colleges and universities all have an important role to play in giving our children a holistic learning experience and contribute to lifelong learning. These groups want to work in partnership with the schools in their local communities.

Children and young people consulted by Young Scot in partnership with Children in Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament told us that they wanted to see closer engagement between their schools and community. They saw the opportunities available in the community to allow them to build skills and links with prospective employers and they also emphasised the positive contribution they could make.

School is a crucial part of a young person's life but it is only one part, and children and young people talked about the importance of their other roles and responsibilities - in their family, with their friends, in sports teams, in their out of school learning and activities, and in their community. Youth work and community organisations told us that they were keen to play a more active role and work with teachers and schools. We value the significant contribution that Community Learning and Development services make to the progress and achievement of children in Scotland and we want to see this continue to expand.

The role of national government and national bodies

In their Governing Education in a Complex World [55] report, the OECD tells us that:

" Even in decentralised systems, the national or state level remains very important in triggering and steering education reform. The central level most often provides the system-wide vision needed to enable effective delivery of reform as well as equitable access and outcomes for students…"

The national government and its agencies provides the strategic vision and sets the context for reform. Government provides the framework for support and the funding for education delivery. Government is held to account through Parliament for the performance of our education system as a whole.

At the moment the lines of accountability between local and national bodies are not clear enough. Respondents to the Governance Review told us that the national landscape felt cluttered with a lack of clarity about responsibilities [56] . However, there appeared to be little desire for change from many respondents. We heard a strong desire for greater support for professional learning but a lack of clarity about who should be responsible for that support. Respondents wanted greater collaboration and joint working between national bodies. The culture and accountability of some national organisations was also raised as an issue of concern.

2.3.3 Collaboration between local authorities and schools

The OECD review of Curriculum for Excellence (2015) [57] provided a number of recommendations to help the Scottish education system to become world leading.

They noted that:

  • teachers who work in cultures of professional collaboration have a stronger impact on student achievement, are more open to change and improvement, and develop a greater sense of self-efficacy; and
  • there needs to be clarity about the kinds of collaboration that work best to bring about the innovations and improvements to enhance student learning, and to create coherent and cohesive cultures of system-wide collaboration.

We have referred previously to the variability in practice and outcomes across authorities and schools, and the potential for collaboration to address some of that variability. The Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee noted [58] that the " variation in performance of education authorities is concerning. Education authorities should collaborate more effectively to share best practice."

At a regional level, we have seen a number of attempts in recent years to develop stronger collaborative ties and partnership working. However, a number of those have not succeeded due to the challenge of reconciling a partnership approach with democratic accountability at local authority level.

There is strong research evidence to suggest regions can play an important role in strengthening the capacity to manage change and promote school improvement across local authorities [59] . There is no legal barrier to prevent local authorities from collaborating in order to secure educational improvement and there is some interesting emerging collaborative practice.

The majority of organisations who responded to the Governance Review consultation were concerned about the establishment of educational regions [60] . The strongest sense of opposition came from local authorities. However, a number of models of regional collaboration are beginning to emerge, but these models do not yet have sufficient depth, pace or impact as they are currently constituted. The International Council of Education Advisers ( ICEA) told us in March [61] that in Scotland " collaboration was uneven and was not sufficiently ingrained throughout the education system". Their report will be published shortly. IPPR Scotland [62] note that " Regional education partnerships should be created above the level of local authorities to lead on workforce planning, teachers' continuing professional development and to take responsibility for funding, evaluating and measuring the impact of attainment activity in schools at a regional level". They also recommended that "Decisions in the school system should be made at the most local level possible, with decision-making power devolved to headteachers, classroom teachers, parents and pupils, and only retained at local authority, regional or national level when there is a strong case for doing so".

There is clear evidence that successful partnerships require local leadership, buy-in and direction, but also that without an external prompt and support collaborative partnerships can often struggle. There is a strong evidence base about what works in supporting collaboration including from the evaluation of the School Improvement Partnership Programme in Scotland (2015) [63] .

Teachers and practitioners told us that they want to work collaboratively with their peers and there are lots of good examples of collaborative working taking place [64] . However, there is no national vision or framework to support collaboration and we are not using the clear evidence about what works.

In short, and to conclude, collaboration often depends on the enthusiasm of an individual and too often it happens in spite of, rather than because of, the current system and structures.

2.3.4 The distribution of funding and ways in which staff are allocated

The bulk of the money local authorities spend on school education is funded through General Revenue Grant from the Scottish Government, which forms part of the overall local government settlement.

Money provided for education through the local government settlement is not ring-fenced, and it is for individual local authorities to determine how much funding should be allocated to education and then to individual schools and centrally managed education support services. That assessment, generally set out in local authorities' Devolved School Management Schemes, is made on the basis of local needs and priorities, but also reflecting statutory obligations and agreed national priorities. There is little transparency over the allocations and factors that are taken into account in doing so, and considerable variation in how local authorities decide to spend their education budget.

This system leads to a wide variation in both the level and method of allocation of funding to schools across Scotland.

We know that there is also wide variation in per pupil spend. For example, Scottish Government figures show that, in 2015-16, the average spend per pupil in Scotland was £4,877 in primary and £6,920 in secondary. However, per pupil spending in primary ranges from £4,200 in one central local authority to £8,968 in one of the island authorities. While island authorities or those with more rural areas do generally spend the most per pupil (because of the generally higher cost of providing education in those areas) this does not account for all the variation. Even among urban authorities, there are some large differences.

This suggests that pupils or schools with similar characteristics in different local authority areas may attract very different levels of funding.

The Accounts Commission report School Education (2014) [65] suggested that funding could have a more significant impact on attainment if it was targeted at those schools and pupils where the need to improve attainment was greatest. They found that it is how councils decide to spend their education budget, rather than the overall level of spend, which has the most impact on attainment levels.

In Spring 2016, we extended the Scottish Attainment Challenge to commit a total of £750 million over the lifetime of this Parliament to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap, targeting resources at the children, schools and communities most in need. This funding comprises two elements; the Pupil Equity Fund and Attainment Scotland funding. Pupil Equity Funding is allocated directly to 95% of schools in Scotland at a rate of £1,200 for each pupil in P1 to S3 known to be eligible for free school meals. Attainment Scotland funding uses SIMD data to provide targeted support for children and young people in greatest need through the Challenge Authorities and Schools Programme, as well as funding a number of national programmes.

However, this funding represents a small proportion of the total gross expenditure on education in Scotland, £4.9 billion in 2015-16. The bulk of that funding is generally allocated to schools by reference to pupil numbers or the numbers of teachers required to support the pupil roll, rather than additional needs-based factors such as deprivation, which we know can impact on attainment and the life chances of individual children. Giving more money directly to headteachers will give them more power and autonomy, though we recognise that there were concerns about the additional bureaucracy associated with this in Governance Review responses. We need strong and effective educational support services for schools which liberate them from bureaucracy and provide high-quality administrative support. There is also evidence that a lack of control over which staff work in schools limits headteacher empowerment and the extent to which the school can improve. We believe we need to give headteachers more flexibility and control so that they have the right people in place at the right time.

2.3.5 Too much bureaucracy

The Government is committed to tackling bureaucracy and we have worked closely with partners to develop and drive proposals for change. We recognise that there are a number of factors that drive bureaucracy at a school, local authority and national level.

It is important that all activity is proportionate and focused on improving learning and teaching and safeguarding children. All national organisations have a role to play in minimising bureaucracy and paperwork. The Education Scotland review of bureaucracy and workload published in September 2016 [66] , found that the workload demands and requirements that local authorities place on schools needed significant improvements in a number of local authorities. The report highlighted the importance of all local authorities adopting good practice.

Empowering schools and allowing teachers, practitioners and headteachers to be leaders of learning changes the relationship between schools and local authorities. Schools will need to continue to undertake curriculum planning, assessment, tracking and monitoring learning outcomes, and planning for self-evaluation and improvement. However strengthened support services for schools are needed to liberate schools from bureaucracy. We want schools to be empowered to make decisions about resources. The business functions and paperwork associated with areas such as finance and human resources should not be undertaken by educational staff. High-quality, consistent support services are needed to liberate schools from this.


Email: Stephanie Gray

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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