Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve excellence and equity in education: governance review

Consultation on how the education sector is run, who should take decisions on the education of children and young people and how funding can be made fairer.

2. Introduction

There is a strong and shared commitment to the vision of excellence and equity for all children and young people across Scottish education:

  • Excellence through raising attainment: ensuring that every child achieves the highest standards in literacy and numeracy, set out within Curriculum for Excellence levels, and the right range of skills, qualifications and achievements to allow them to succeed; and
  • Achieving equity: ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

The improvements and reforms which have been driven forward across early learning and school education have been broad and deep - and include reforms to our curriculum and our workforce. The one area which has not been reviewed since devolution is the governance of the system itself.

This Government was elected to deliver a range of reforms to help us transform education to ensure it is world class for all our children and young people. This review of governance examines the system changes required to deliver our commitments to empower schools and decentralise management and support through school clusters and the creation of new educational regions.

This review is an essential part of our focus on empowerment. In particular, it seeks views on how we can further empower our teachers, practitioners, parents, schools and early learning and childcare settings, starting with a presumption that decisions about individual children's learning and school life should be taken at school level. References to parents include guardians and any other persons having parental responsibilities or care of a child.

These reforms are part of the Scottish Government's wider commitment to the reform of public services to ensure they are fit to serve communities across Scotland. We believe the best people to decide the future of our communities are the people who live in those communities.

What do we mean by the governance of education in Scotland?

We are reviewing the organising system of early learning and childcare and school education. References to education include early learning and childcare and school education unless otherwise specified. Like many education systems across the world, Scottish education is multi-level with the Scottish Government, local government, national agencies and other bodies playing different roles to govern, lead and support the delivery of education.

In Scottish education:

  • The Scottish Government develops national policy and sets the overall direction of education policy. Scottish Ministers have a duty to secure improvement in school education provision and to use their powers to raise the standards of such provision. The Scottish Government provides funding to local authorities within the Local Government Settlement for the provision of early learning and childcare and school education.
  • Local authorities, as the education authority, have a duty to provide adequate and efficient school education including early years provision in their area. They also have a duty of improvement as an education authority and on behalf of their schools. Local authorities set education budgets for their areas, including school-level budgets.

Local authorities have direct responsibility for the provision and quality of early learning and childcare and schools, the employment of educational staff, the provision and financing of most educational services and the implementation of Scottish Government policies in education.

Local authorities also have responsibility for a range of other services which support children and young people, families and communities such as child protection, social services and housing.

  • Education Scotland is the national body for supporting quality and improvement in learning and teaching. It is responsible for inspecting schools, providing guidance on developing the curriculum at local level, and for organising an extensive range of professional learning opportunities and the sharing of effective practice.
  • The Care Inspectorate regulates and inspects care services in Scotland, including in early years settings, residential schools and local authority-provided school hostels, to make sure that they meet the right standards.
  • The Scottish Social Services Council ( SSSC) is the regulator for the social service workforce in Scotland, including all those involved in day care of children services. They protect the public by registering social service workers, setting standards for their practice, conduct, training and education and by supporting their professional development.
  • The Scottish Qualifications Authority ( SQA) develops, reviews, validates and awards qualifications below degree level which are used largely by schools, colleges, private training organisations and some individual organisations. It quality assures all the centres that deliver SQA qualifications. It also has an accreditation role.
  • The General Teaching Council for Scotland ( GTCS) is the independent professional body which sets teachers' professional standards and accredits Initial Teacher Education. It also oversees a number of key programmes in relation to induction, professional learning and student placement.
  • The Scottish College for Educational Leadership ( SCEL) is responsible for developing leadership and programmes for the early learning and schools education system.
  • Initial Teacher Education ( ITE) is provided by universities in partnership with local authorities and is designed to bring students to a level of competence that allows them to work in schools. These ITE universities also offer professional learning to teachers and other education professionals including professional learning at Masters level and leadership programmes such as the Into Headship qualification.

In its recent publication, Governing Education in a Complex World, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) recognised that creating open, dynamic and strategic governance of complex education systems is not easy. Successful systems, however, are those where governance and accountability are inclusive, adaptable and flexible. Roles and responsibilities across the system must be clear and aligned; teachers, practitioners, schools, early learning and childcare settings and system leaders should collaborate across effective networks to improve outcomes; parents and communities require to be engaged; and funding and decision making should be transparent.

The OECD found that there are five key components to good governance of education systems:

five key components to good governance of education systems

Governing Education in a Complex World, OECD, 2014

The OECD also identified three themes vital for effective governance and successful reform:

  • accountability - the challenge of holding different actors at multiple levels responsible for their actions
  • capacity building - identifying gaps, skill needs and dynamics of implementation on individual, institutional and system level
  • strategic thinking - the development of a long-term plan and set of common goals for the educational system among a broad array of actors

Why should we review education governance now?

Our Delivery Plan, Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education, builds on an impressive track record of improvements and reforms which have been driven forward across education and children's services in recent years. This includes Getting it Right for Every Child, Curriculum for Excellence and Developing the Young Workforce. The National Improvement Framework sets out how we will provide the information to drive improvement right across education and we are adopting a targeted approach to closing the attainment gap through the Scottish Attainment Challenge, backed by £750 million of investment over the next five years.

Whilst the main legislation underpinning Scottish education - the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 - has been amended and added to on a number of occasions, the broad framework of Scottish education has been in place since before devolution. Now is the right time to review that broad framework. Challenging our thinking and practice, building capacity to deliver in the right places and ensuring roles, responsibilities and accountability are clear and transparent, will also be critical to our success in delivering excellence and equity in Scottish education.

Each year around £5 billion is spent on early years and school education across Scotland. It directly impacts on the life chances of over 680,000 pupils in primary, secondary and special schools and around 125,000 children in early learning and childcare. Young people are staying on longer in school, overall attainment is rising and the gap between the most and the least deprived pupils with qualifications is decreasing. On any measure, however, there continues to be a clear gap between the attainment of children and young people from the most and least deprived areas of Scotland. But deprivation alone does not explain the variation in outcomes achieved by children and young people in Scottish education.

The Accounts Commission and the OECD have both highlighted that attainment and achievement levels vary across local authorities and that some children from similar socio-economic backgrounds outperform children from similar backgrounds in other areas. The Accounts Commission report, School education, published in 2014, highlighted the significant variation in attainment between individual councils, schools, and groups of pupils. Deprivation and poverty undoubtedly have a large impact on attainment, but the Accounts Commission found that some schools have achieved better attainment results than their levels of deprivation would indicate.

Furthermore, whilst the financial context in recent years has been challenging for the whole of the public sector in Scotland, the Accounts Commission's findings also highlighted that differences in outcomes could not be explained by spend on education alone.

Question 1

What are the strengths of the current governance arrangements of Scottish education?

Question 2

What are the barriers within the current governance arrangements to achieving the vision of excellence and equity for all?


Email: Tracey McRae, tracey.mcrae@gov.scot

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