Last month I wrote a post questioning the establishment of Regional Collaboratives in Scottish education and the democratic deficit they were likely to create. Under proposals, local accountability, on the part of local authority scrutiny would be effectively side-stepped from the equation as regional directors of these collaboratives would report back to Scottish Government quango, Education Scotland.
Three days ago Education Secretary, John Swinney dramatically appeared to call a halt to this direction of travel, albeit under ongoing concerns and enquiry from COSLA. In this post I will present a summary of where proposed governance of education is/was headed and the deep concerns that COSLA representatives expressed and then outline the new considerations and my thoughts on these.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago and therefore, have taken some of that text and inserted it here, to read the full article please go to: http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2017/08/education-childrens-services-response.html . In September 2016, the Scottish Government began a review that sought views on how education in Scotland is run, on the back of that a paper (Next Steps) was published by John Swinney in June this year claiming that a “revolutionised approach” would be taken towards support and improvement in schools. As so often happens though the devil is in the detail and that is where it became interesting. On the one hand claiming to grant “sweeping new powers to headteachers” whilst on the other, and the reality, was that regional collaboratives would be set up and headed by a director who would report back to Scottish Government quango, Education Scotland. Fife (my local authority) would be netted in with the South East Scotland grouping – Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and the Borders. Local government would effectively be removed from the equation other than administrative responsibilities of providing support services, developing the provision of early years and childcare and appointing headteachers.
Predictably, and rightly, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) hit back at such proposals and stated that the creation of Regional Collaboratives was a “top down approach…not in the spirit of initial proposals by leaders” and that “Scottish Councils hold the statutory responsibility for the provision and delivery of education for performance and improvement of individual schools as well as cumulative authority…the “Next Steps” paper disaggregates the strategic leadership role of local government and proposes redistribution of functions, which has an impact on democratic accountability”.
Accountability at the local level to Councils and elected representatives would be, at best, diluted and would mean that rather than strengthening local government it would be cast by the way side and instead be ad continuum of this SNP Government’s policy of centralisation, as we have seen with the subsuming of regional police forces into Police Scotland (which has demonstrated to be a catalogue of disasters).
A further rebuff to local accountability with this proposal was that local stakeholders – parents and carers, were not consulted on their views on the demise of local accountability in regards to their children’s education. If they choose to challenge educational practice within their local authority where and to whom are they to go?
Local Government Counts
In what some may call a spectacular u-turn, it appears that Education Secretary, John Swinney has backtracked on his disliked and dysfunctional proposals. Instead the role of Regional Director will be reduced and Council leaders will appoint a lead officer – meaning reports will go to local authorities and their elected representatives, in addition to reporting to Scottish Government body, Education Scotland. COSLA spokesperson for Children and Young People, Cllr Stephen McCabe stated that: “Securing the best interests of children and young people is our driving goal in the integrated children’s services which local authorities deliver. We share an ambition with the Scottish Government for excellence and equity for our children.” http://www.cosla.gov.uk/news/2017/09/way-forward-improvement-focused-collaboration-education-agreed
Such a move is to be welcomed. Any moves to further remote local government from educational governance would mean a lack of accountability and transparency and distance not only elected representatives (who are the voices of local people) but parents and carers as key stakeholders in their children’s education.
Given the protracted difficulties with implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence, the shambolic state of the National qualifications, teacher shortages, crashing numeracy and literacy against international scores and a failure to close the attainment gap one is left to wonder what other significant damage the regional collaboratives were likely to create? Or to the cynic, was this an attempt to create further distance between the people and holding government to account for deficits in policy?