EDUCATION Secretary John Swinney has watered down his flagship education plan to give head teachers more control of schools, the Sunday Herald can reveal.
In a partial victory for councils, Local authorities will continue to have an important role over staffing after crunch talks with the SNP Government.
It is also understood councils will still produce Local “improvement plans”, even though a Government consultation previously suggested they would be stripped of this responsibility.
Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer, whose party has been critical of the SNP Government on education, said: “The best choice John Swinney could make now is to ditch these unhelpful governance plans and come back with proposals to give schools the staff and resources they actually need.”
Under the Education (Scotland) Bill, which is yet to be introduced, Swinney intends to give schools more freedom and heads more scope to choose staff. The powers will be contained in a statutory charter for headteachers.
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However, critics believe the proposals undermine councils, which currently deliver education services, and SNP insiders are worried the plans may not command a majority in Parliament.
One of the flashpoints between councils and the Government is on how much power heads should have on selecting the teachers who work in their schools.
The Government consultation makes clear Swinney wants heads to have a greater say, but council umbrella group Cosla has flagged up concerns to the Government that the proposals could expose heads to legal liability.
Private talks have taken place and internal Cosla papers reveal that Swinney met councillor Stephen McCabe, who leads on education for the group, on May 15 about the staffing impasse.
The paper stated: “Cllr McCabe was clear that Cosla could not agree to a joint model which conflicted with the clear legal advice we have been given in relation to delegation of employment responsibilities to head teachers.
“Cosla officials, based on legal advice, suggested including a high-level statement in legislation that reflected our joint position but would not include a level of detail that would contravene our position as employers.”
The document added: “Following significant lobbying and officer level input from Local government officials, Scottish Government officials have recognised our concerns and the draft legislative instrument (shared in confidence) has resolved our outstanding legal issues.”
It is understood the compromise means councils will be able to intervene if they believe headteachers are breaching statutory guidance and regulations.
Also according to the leaked Cosla paper, Ministers have u-turned on another point in the Government consultation which suggested Local authorities would no longer be required to develop individual improvement plans. The leaked paper states: “The requirement on Local authorities to develop and produce improvement plans will continue alongside regional improvement plans.”
Greer added: “This isn’t the first and won’t be the last climbdown from the SNP as they try to recover their education bill from the shambles it has become. The reality is that their proposed governance reforms aren’t wanted or needed by teachers, pupils, parents or councils and they lack a parliamentary majority to even pass them.”
Tory MSP Liz Smith said: “A new education bill is potentially the best chance we have had in a long time of making the necessary changes to the management of the school structure in Scotland and, in turn, to raise attainment. It is absolutely vital that the power balance shifts towards headteachers who, as far as the Scottish Conservatives are concerned, should be the ones who make all the key decisions about what goes on in their own school.
“We are therefore extremely disappointed if these reports are true, but will continue to work towards achieving greater freedom for schools.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have been in productive discussions with Local government and other stakeholders about our education reforms, which will empower schools to take the key decisions to raise standards for all and close the attainment gap.”
Cosla declined to comment.
Source : HeraldScotland