Swinney urged to ditch threats of legislation

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:

​Teaching unions and local authorities have urged John Swinney, the Scottish education secretary, to stop using the “big stick” of legislation to give schools more power.

Mr Swinney put the flagship Education Bill – with its headteachers’ charter – on hold in the summer because of a lack of support in Parliament. The law was meant to give school leaders the remit to set the curriculum, hire staff and control their own budgets. He has since stated he can achieve the same goals by collaborating with councils.

However, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and councils group Cosla told the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee last week that it was unhelpful of Mr Swinney to keep referring to the “option” of legislation.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said it was unrealistic to expect sweeping change to be finalised within a year: “Frankly, if we’re talking about changing the culture, the idea that we’re going to do that in a year is fanciful. We need to get rid of the idea that there are threats sitting behind the offer of friendship around collaboration. I think it would be good if we had an early signal that the collaborative approach is working and that the legislation isn’t going to be required.”

Stephen McCabe, Cosla’s education spokesman, said councils would also prefer the Bill to be scrapped entirely: “We’re happy that it hasn’t been introduced, we’re not so happy that it is sitting there on the shelf,” he added.

Mr Swinney insists legislation to bring in the reforms is still “an option I can bring forward if necessary”. He told MSPs the Bill had been delayed because, despite “very broad support” for giving schools across Scotland more power, there was “substantial disagreement about the detail”.

He added: “I wanted to make sure I built on the agreement that was emerging about school empowerment and essentially captured that opportunity to take forward the reform agenda.

“I was also influenced by the commentary of the International Council of Education Advisers who essentially believe the Scottish government’s education agenda is soundly focused and anchored, but they gave me some cautionary advice that pursuing a legislative approach to the reforms ... might not create as good an outcome as if I took forward a collaborative approach.

“The concept of empowering schools is not just created by legislation, it needs to be a change of culture within our education system, and legislation doesn’t always routinely deliver a change in culture.”


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