Chapter 4: Regional Collaborations
There was strong opposition to the uniform establishment of educational regions, particularly from local authorities, but also from schools, agencies, parent councils and individuals.
The primary criticism revolved around an increase in unnecessary bureaucracy and a loss of local accountability, as well as a general weakening in democratic representation.
Overall, respondents desired greater clarity around the rationale for creating regions, in particular what the benefits of the new structure would be over existing arrangements.
Should educational regions be created, the top three factors mentioned by respondents to consider were: geography/distance, affluence and demographic distribution of the population.
Should educational regions be created, some respondents felt that the new regional arrangements could be used to address the differences between local authorities and their relationships with schools.
The consultation document stated that Scottish Government is committed to introducing new educational regions to ensure best practice is shared more systematically and to ensure improvement is driven collaboratively, deliberately and continuously across Scottish education.
Respondents were asked what services or functions are best delivered at a regional level. They were also asked to provide ideas as to what factors should be considered when establishing new educational regions.
4.1 General appetite for educational regions
Despite not being asked directly, the majority of organisations were concerned about the establishment of educational regions and most opposed it entirely. The strongest sense of opposition came from local authorities followed by agencies/bodies, schools/clusters and parent councils. Equally, many individuals volunteered their views on educational regions in general, and, within these responses, the consensus was that they were not desirable. However, because the consultation did not ask for general views on educational regions, respondents with strong views were more likely to offer their opinion.
While concerns were quite broad, some of the recurring themes revolved around:
- The lack of clarity in the definition of educational regions;
- The danger of adding an extra layer of bureaucracy;
- The cost of establishing these regions;
- Whether the creation of these regions was a cost-cutting exercise rather than to drive benefits;
- The effective operation of such educational regions and whether 'local-level' intelligence would still be paramount; and
- The loss of local democratic accountability.
Many respondents stated that the creation of such regions appeared to contradict the OECD recommendation to focus on processes rather than structures.
A few individual respondents cautioned against a 'return' to previous Regional Councils, which they perceived not to have worked well. Other respondents pointed to the new police and fire service regions as something they did not wish to see emulated in education.
Amongst the few respondents who welcomed the idea of new educational regions, the main benefit they saw was a greater sense of consistency across the different local authorities. In particular, some respondents used the example of ASN and educational psychology provision in recognition of their specialised nature, their cost, and the significant variations in cost burdens on schools from year to year dependent of the placement of individual children.
Amongst organisations in particular, a few referred to a preferred idea of dealing with a smaller number than 32 different local authorities.
However, some respondents were of the opinion that greater consistency could also be achieved through more widely-spread partnerships rather than structural change.
4.2 Factors for the establishment of educational regions
Despite a lack of positive endorsement towards the idea of new educational regions, when the consultation document asked about which factors to consider when establishing them, respondents provided some ideas. The top three mentions from respondents related to:
- Geography/distance. In particular, the idea that rural areas do not become more isolated;
- Affluence of regions. The notion that more affluent local authorities should support less lucrative/smaller ones; and
- Demographic distribution of the population.
Other factors mentioned by fewer respondents were cultural differences, workloads and travel distances for staff, an integration with health service provision, educational attainment and best practice, and an alignment with college regions.
4.3 Services and support functions at a regional level
The consultation document asked specifically which services and support functions would be best delivered at a regional level. Ideas were offered from those who favoured a change and those who opposed it.
Overall, there was a sense, amongst organisations especially, that the new regional arrangements could be used to address the differences between local authorities and their relationships with schools. Many respondents mentioned that a role for the new regional arrangements could be around accountability of local authorities.
Beyond accountability, the range of services and support functions suggested by respondents was very broad. The most common ideas referred to were:
- Opportunities for continuous professional development;
- Provision of support services, such as ASN and English as an Additional Language ( EAL);
- Training and professional development for teachers;
- Human Resources, such as workforce planning, payroll and the administration of recruitment (though not the recruitment itself which was advocated to be conducted at a school level);
- Other business support (such as health and safety, building planning, janitorial, catering or legal expertise);
- Data gathering;
- School inspections;
- Procurement; and
- Support in curriculum development.
Some individual respondents referred to services and support functions at local authority level when responding to this question, exemplifying the lack of clarity amongst many respondents about what 'regional' meant in this context.
Email: Daniel Waddell
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House