Scotland’s education reform: ministerial statement

Update from Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

Presiding Officer, the relentless focus of this Government is to deliver an education system in Scotland which raises attainment for all, closes the attainment gap, and enables all children and young people to fulfil their potential.

During my statement to Parliament on 26 June last year, I set out our landmark agreement with Scotland’s local councils which provided a clear and shared agenda for the empowerment of schools rather than by introducing legislation. I undertook at that time to return to Parliament with my assessment of whether sufficient progress on our shared ambition had been made to satisfy me that the non-legislative route was the right one.

I am therefore grateful for this opportunity to provide Parliament with an update on the progress around school empowerment and our related programme of Education Reform. My statement this afternoon is accompanied by a publication which provides additional detail on work in this area.

International evidence demonstrates that successful education systems are those where decisions about the education of our children are made as close to them as possible. That is why we are committed to empowering schools – to empower headteachers, teachers, parents, pupils and the wider school community – to make the key decisions which affect the educational outcomes of children and young people.

With our partners in Local Government, professional associations and other stakeholders we are taking steps to “put teachers, parents and communities in the driving seat”.

Together we are building a school and teacher-led education system.

 A crucial element of this Government’s agenda has been to recognise the importance of excellent school leadership and in turn, to empower headteachers to more effectively lead our schools.

The Headteachers’ Charter, published in February, aims to ensure schools have wide-ranging decision making powers over what matters – learning, teaching and the curriculum, their resources – staffing and budgets - and make these decisions by involving their whole school community.

This delivers on the policy intention originally part of the draft Education Bill. The Charter supports a culture of empowerment that enables all professionals to contribute to the agenda of improvement.

The Charter, in combination with linked school leaders guidance, is now being used by schools and has crucially been co-produced. I am grateful for the shared work that has led to the production of the Charter and I am particularly pleased at the pace with which it has been delivered.

I am also pleased to be able to report that today we have published updated Devolved School Management Guidelines. This new guidance has also been developed in partnership with local government while improving on existing advice, crucially reflects the expectations and opportunities of an empowered school system, including the Headteachers’ Charter.

The Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Funding have already empowered schools by allowing them to design solutions and take decisions specific to their school community. It’s important we now capitalise on this and deliver broader budgetary decision making to our schools.

I have also committed to providing high quality support for school leaders many of whom are now beginning to operate in an increasingly empowered environment. With this in mind I am pleased to note that last month Education Scotland expanded the support they provide for headteachers and will now provide a range of professional learning opportunities specifically focused on school empowerment.

This, in combination with our investment in Columba 1400 Headteacher Leadership Academies with the Hunter Foundation, will provide school leaders with the skills and confidence to flourish and deliver improved outcomes for the communities they serve.

We are also deepening the support available to schools through Regional Improvement Collaboratives.

Through enhanced engagement and support across local government, supported by additional Scottish Government funding of around £5 million this year, and focused support from Education Scotland, the RICs have significantly enhanced their capacity to support collaborative working across the system, and to deliver region-wide approaches to improving outcomes for our children and young people.

This is evidenced through the delivery of their September 2018 Regional Improvement Plans, through increased engagement with and support of teachers networks across each region, and through focused regional interventions on attainment, curriculum development, leadership development and quality improvement.

An interim review of the establishment of the RICs was also published in February this year. It recognised the significant early progress that had been made in establishing local governance, leadership and buy-in across each RIC area. We will commission a further review later this year, again in partnership with local government, to assess the development and impact further.

We are committed to ensuring both pupils and parents are provided with the opportunity to influence decisions related to their school. This is more important than ever in an increasingly empowered school system.

In July 2018, we developed a comprehensive plan in conjunction with Local Government to improve parental involvement and engagement: the ‘Learning Together’ Action Plan 2018 – 2021. This plan demonstrates our long term commitment to put parents at the heart of their children’s learning, and reflects the importance we place on parental engagement within a range of Scottish Government education policies and initiatives.

Learners in our schools rightly expect their voice to be both heard and valued. The Headteachers’ Charter places a central expectation on headteachers – and through that to the wider empowered system – to support and encourage children and young people to participate in decisions about their own learning and the life of the learning community.

In April 2018, in advance of the School Empowerment reforms, Education Scotland published practical guidance to schools. We will continue to promote this guidance and support to schools in order that they can better support learner participation.

It is important that the work in taking forward the Joint Agreement is placed in the context of wider education reforms.

In particular I was pleased to note last month’s publication of the report of the Independent Panel on Career Pathways. This is an exciting report that will generate new and ambitious career pathways for teachers while increasing the attractiveness of the profession. I expect the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers to have put in place the conditions for new pathways by August 2021.

It is also important that we recognise and support a wider range of practitioners who work with our children and young people. While we decided against the creation of a broader Education Workforce Council we are working with local authorities to further enhance the support offered to a wide range of education practitioners including College lecturers, Instrumental Music Instructors, school librarians and Home/School Link Workers.

It is clearly vital that we understand the impact of our endeavors in empowering Scottish schools. We need to know where change is having a positive impact and indeed, where greater focus may be required.

The early evidence we have available does however provide me with a sense of cautious optimism that the types of empowered practice that I expect to see, are now becoming more common.

Education Scotland has previously published thematic inspections on readiness for empowerment, and on curriculum leadership and has today published the findings of a further inspection on parent and pupil participation. While making clear that we are only part way through this journey, these reports indicate that local authorities are taking positive steps to embrace the principles of empowerment set out in the Joint Agreement and that the education system is committed to collaboration and co-production.

The Readiness for Empowerment review, published in December 2018, noted that:

“Almost all local authorities are committed to developing an empowered education system with the aim of improving outcomes for learners, reducing inequalities and closing the attainment gap.”

It is important that we all take responsibility for the change process and I am pleased that three local authorities are now also trialing a self-evaluation framework. I am also pleased that an overarching evaluation strategy is being developed that will bring together all available evidence on empowerment in our schools which will help us to monitor progress.

Equally important is the assurance that I have recently received from the Chief Inspector of Education, as Chair of the Joint Agreement Steering Group, that partners remain firmly engaged in and committed to this work. This has highlighted to me and to COSLA, that real progress has been made and that the practice of empowerment and school based decision making is becoming increasingly evident in our schools.

The Chief Inspector has also stressed to me the importance and the value of the collaborative approach we are taking with local government and other partners in the delivery of these reforms. She believes that progress has been made sooner than would have been the case through legislation, and reassures me of the continued commitment of all partners to work together in supporting the delivery of an empowered system which improves outcomes for children and young people.

This includes a clear objective to promote and build on the work to date, developing further guidance and engaging with the wider system – with schools, teachers and others involved in children’s learning.

While I am heartened by these positive messages I am under no illusion that we remain at a relatively early stage in our efforts to change the culture of school education in Scotland.

The Joint Agreement and the recently agreed teachers’ pay deal provide us with the stability required for real and long-term system change to take place.

But we must maintain our collective focus and ensure meaningful improvements are delivered.

When I last addressed members on this issue in June 2018 I made it clear that if sufficient progress had not been made in the forthcoming twelve months I would return to Parliament and introduce an Education Bill. This afternoon I have set out my view that progress is being made in a genuinely collaborative spirit and a culture based around empowerment is starting to take root in our schools.

It is clear to me that we would not have come so far in such a short period of time if we had relied on introducing an Education Bill. I am also assured that this Government’s long-term vision of a school-led education system is shared by our partners in Local Government. The Chief Inspector has further endorsed and recommended to me the continuation of our partnership approach.

Given this, I am able to confirm that the Scottish Government, will not introduce an Education Bill as means of driving school empowerment. Instead we will continue to work in partnership with local government, teacher representatives and the wider education sector - we will collectively ensure that schools are supported to take the key decisions relevant to them.

Presiding Officer, I am optimistic that our collaborative approach through which we share a view of empowerment and collectively take responsibility for change, will result in improved outcomes for Scotland’s children and young people.

Achieving excellence and equity for all of our children and young people is the core purpose of this Government and these reforms are central to this work. Given the importance of this agenda I would be pleased to return to Parliament in a year’s time to once again provide an update on this vital work.



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