APPROVAL of flagship Scottish Government legislation on overhauling schools is likely to depend on support from Ruth Davidson’s Conservative MSPs.
Education Secretary John Swinney’s planned reforms have been criticised by three of Holyrood’s opposition parties and may rely on Tory votes at Holyrood.
Liz Smith, the Conservative spokeswoman on education, said: “We are in a very strong position, as John Swinney obviously needs another political party to get the Bill through.”
The SNP Government has made education its top domestic policy and is expected to publish its “centrepiece” legislation on schools imminently.
Under the plans, Swinney will back headteachers getting more autonomy over staffing, the curriculum and funding, powers that will be laid out in a statutory charter.
However, a consultation on the Bill was met with opposition by organisations in the education sector.
Although elements of the Swinney plan have been ditched since the consultation, sceptics still believe the direction of Travel amounts to a “power grab” from Local authorities and argue that the creation of new “regional improvement” bodies amounts to centralisation.
The focus has now shifted onto whether the minority SNP Government can secure a majority for the proposals. Swinney needs one of the four opposition parties to either back the legislation, or abstain, for the bill to pass.
Iain Gray, Labour’s education spokesperson, said his party did not believe the legislation is “necessary”, adding that the proposals had found no support amongst teachers, parents and educationalists.
He said: “It’s an open secret that John’s hope for getting this through lies largely with the Tories.” Gray added: “For any SNP Minister, I think that is a somewhat uncomfortable position.”
Ross Greer, the education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said Swinney should be delivering more “staff and resources”, but said he was instead sidetracked by a focus on “governance”.
He said the Government is trying to “answer a question nobody is asking” and added: “We are still working on the assumption that John Swinney is trying to get the support of the Tories.”
MSP Tavish Scott, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on education, was also critical of the plans. “Teachers do not need yet more meddling from the Scottish Government and its over-mighty education quangos.
“The government is not seen as valuing teachers and the workload and bureaucracy that they face shows no sign of letting up. There are vacancies everywhere and across key subjects but these proposals will do nothing to address these fundamental issues.
“What is needed is McCrone 2 – a fundamental review of terms and conditions to attract and retain teachers, not structural tinkering.”
Smith, who described Swinney as a “decent man”, said her party supported plans to devolve extra power to heads, but claimed the Government had “watered down” this agenda.
She also said there was a “considerable contradiction” between giving school leaders more control while at the same time setting up regional bodies, and said her party could not support Swinney “at the moment”.
However, Smith said: “I do see the potential for this Bill to be the best chance that we have, for a long period of time, to do the right things.”
Asked whether the Tories are the kingmakers, she said: “I think that’s the general impression in the Parliament. We are closest to the principle of the reform that I think John Swinney wants to make.”
The prospect of a deal between the SNP and the Tories, who are currently at loggerheads over the powers of the Parliament, has echoes of the informal pact that existed between the parties between 2007 and 2011.
During that period, Alex Salmond’s minority Government was able to push through its annual budget with the help of Annabel Goldie’s Tories.
A senior education source predicted Swinney would use his “constructive” talks with council umbrella group COSLA to pressurise opposition parties into supporting the Bill.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are determined to see these important reforms implemented to empower schools and school leaders. They are based on international evidence of how high performing education systems work and received widespread support during consultation. Our next steps on this, and other elements of our education reform agenda, will be set out in due course and we are confident they will again be widely supported.”
Source : HeraldScotland