Room for debate
We asked a number of teachers to answer the motion:
I agree that more power, including budget, should be devolved directly to individual schools. Here are some of the thoughts they shared
I disagree with the motion that more power, including budget, should be devolved directly to individual schools. Our education system requires regeneration and remodelling at national level with solid guidelines for the way forward being gradually and carefully disseminated until they reach individual practitioners and become embedded in ensuring effective education for all pupils.
I fail to grasp how bureaucracy can be lessened at HT level when fiscal demands and requirements are inserted into the running of a school. Surely this suggestion is, in itself, irrational when the same remit in industry or another area of the public sector would require qualifications rivalling those of an accountant? If more control and responsibility for budgeting, and all that these would entail, fall to senior managers within schools, then how can the other components of school life not flounder and fail at some level?
There is also the issue of ensuring consistency and cohesion with the base elements of practice within each and every classroom in the country. The considerations of monitoring, of assessing, of consolidating and of developing at each layer of our system will require regulation that begins at the core. This, combined with the assurance of transparency, is essential to secure and safeguard a sound education for Scotland’s pupils. In conclusion, I believe that the motion would serve to fracture our system, not strengthen it.
Agnes Kennedy, Beith Primary
Lack of resources
Individual schools do not have the resources to administer this and also might not have an overall view of authority spending. Could result in reinventing the wheel or duplication of efforts.
Bill Harris, Edinburgh
A political move
Who would be in charge of such a budget? Probably the headteacher. Most headteachers are verging on being politicians and will have their own agendas in order to make themselves look good rather than to benefit the majority of pupils. I feel this idea will lead to more “short-termness” rather than any significant improvement of educational outcome.
Jim Downie, Drumchapel HS
I’m not convinced that the average Scottish headteacher/ senior management team has fully grasped the concept of “collegiality”; from what I hear from colleagues elsewhere, the picture is the same up and down the country. I’m employed by a small council and I think that the LNCT works very well for us. I also think that, at a time when we are struggling to recruit teachers, we should avoid going down any path that could erode national terms and conditions of employment.
Mary Maley, Kirkwall Grammar School, Orkney
Parity and unity are key
I have decided to disagree with the proposal to give greater powers to individual schools.
This is due to my own special circumstance, registered as a substitute teacher, fully qualified teacher in NI and working towards full registration in Scotland also.
Recently, I have been persuaded of the difficulties facing schools due to budgetary constraints affecting staffing and requisitions. The unwritten, unstated wish seems to be for greater autonomy and freedom to determine quality of service based on each school’s unique setting, background, catchment or significant special issues, with special focus on additional financial help to create and maintain a specific ethos and standard to promote learning.
A well-publicised example here with regards to individualised financial planning is provision of equipment for cancer sufferers. One patient publicised the effect that a decision not to invest in specific aids or forms of treatment were hard for her to process, as the same determinants did not apply elsewhere in UK.
As I began to contemplate the unfairness of the scenario, I also read an alternative response from another hospital who allowed a charity to manage the budget challenge, and who raised money to purchase the assistive aids required. As I reflected on this initiative, which speaks for autonomy and creativity, I read the ending: ‘Equipment returned when decision made by the hospital for other reasons’.
The examples clearly show, with heart-rending clarity, what can happen when greater power is devolved to individual schools/ hospitals even when quality of life or right to life is at risk. In matters regarding education and training for young people (all learners), the greater burden of responsibilities, especially budgets and allowances, should be managed by a separate regulatory body, freeing lead practitioners headteachers and departmental heads to reshape and envision developmental plans and policies for the student body in their care. Already in NI, the anxiety around the issue results in factual reports of teachers resigning to save monies needed for other purposes and headteachers are having to visit classrooms to cover for absent staff members who cannot be replaced, even temporarily. When examples/accounts of these workarounds filter to a registered workforce, who are impacted financially and stunted as regards their own professional development and loss of opportunity to work collaboratively, there can only be a ‘raising of eyebrows’ and altered perception around what exactly is being achieved and delivered by an increase in power. Unemployment and forced resignation are two consequences I have been made aware of to date, but there are probably more. Parity and unity are key in resolving the battle for power. I feel school leaders have lost focus in the crisis around self-determination for their school and their need to ‘return’ what has been provided, and that which is most important: staff. I believe no decision made by a separate managerial agency for school administration would tolerate a variation of interpretation and managerial strategies, however creative and well argued about over-hyped financial crises, which results in losses to staffing numbers. Neither curriculum nor assessment are based or organised on a school-by-school basis, which seems to answer this question for me.
Dolores Devlin, DENI Temporary Teachers’ Pay & Pensions
Sound idea in theory
You just knew it was going to be an interesting read from the moment the Deputy First Minister claimed it was part of a plan – that the Government had an existing plan for education must have come as a surprise to most! Sadly, from that point onwards, it’s clear that, like the Deputy First Minister’s claim of a plan, devolving power to individual schools is dubious. In theory it’s a sound idea, if: it meant schools didn’t have to use the SQA for all its examinations – the reasons for that any secondary teacher will know all too well; schools could break out of the non-stop change inflicted on them by the Scottish Government, how many SoW, how many resources produced then redone ad nauseam? However, devolution of education in Scotland appears to be likely to mean centralisation by the Scottish Government: new Scottish umbrella organisations, the GTCS empire building, potential undermining of Scottish national wages and conditions. Pessimistic perhaps, but when have successive Scottish Governments given us any reason to be anything less than on guard? In reality, teachers will do what we always do; way more than we’re poorly paid to, making government policy survivable for students.
I MacMillan, Aberdeenshire
One size doesn't fit all
There are too many diverse establishments for a “one size fits all” approach to be successful.
Rob Burney, Rockfield Primary
I have heard rumours of some authorities central offices taking cuts of PEF monies to cover administration. This is outrageous!
Lindsey Barley, Primary School
Schools are very like domestic households: they have a family structure with staff caring for the wellbeing of the pupils with a budget, which caters for the inherent needs and demands of the situation. Money and the power that goes with managing that ‘personal’ budget are key to a successful outcome in all aspects of the school’s (and I repeat) wellbeing.
Stuart Irvine, supply teacher, Aberdeen City
Schools will be able to respond to their specific needs enabling effective targeting of key development priorities. This move may also enable closer parental involvement, as the opportunity to make a difference to the local school is increased as layers of bureaucracy are removed. It is possible that increasing school diversity will emerge across Scotland. Innovative practices may emerge, which could be a catalyst for significant educational improvement across Scotland.
Geraldine Johnson, Currie High School, Edinburgh
Best use of resources
Individual headteachers should know what is required for each pupil. It makes good sense to use resources in an effectual manner. This can only happen if the people making decisions know the pupils. Also, schools in different locations have different needs, as inner city schools are very different from rural schools. Educators know best the needs of schools, not politicians.
Jean Anderson, Glasgow supply teacher
Money where it matters
- The school will know what areas need to be addressed
- Less money will disappear to meetings and paperwork generated at councils level
Money will have an impact on where it matters most – the pupils in that school.
Jason Hynes, Levenmouth Academy
An improvement in education
I agree that there will be some advantages to individual schools having direct control over matters such as budget and curriculum. However, I have one particular issue in relation to the curriculum. I am concerned that some headteachers may take the opportunity to prioritise certain subjects over others.
I particularly fear for my own subject of Modern Languages, which is already under considerable pressure in some schools. I believe that Modern Languages will take on even greater significance after Brexit, but that is another matter for debate. In the meantime, when shaping the curriculum, it is important that we remember one of the fundamental principles of the Curriculum for Excellence, which is that all pupils are entitled to a broad general education in their early years and have a wide range of subjects to choose from in the senior phase.
Brian McLinden, Retired Head of Modern Languages
A possible solution
I agree with this, but with some constraints. Headteachers need to work collaboratively with their staff in order for each member to take ownership and responsibility for any decisions that are made. This would encourage active engagement and participation of all staff and create a sense of community. Incorporating the parent council’s involvement and the children on some level would also allow for more transparency on achieving shared aims, visions and values. Teaching and learning for the 21st century is what the Scottish Government is pushing for, and individual schools are more equipped to readily meet the needs of their children in a more supportive, direct and constructive manner. Resources can be extremely expensive, and limiting to only specific providers hinders competitive pricing. Allowing schools the power to choose from a wider selection of suppliers, while adhering to similar standards of safety protocols, would be cost effective and improve children’s learning experiences by having quantifiable and quality resources. Staffing should also be regarded as a resource and we need to be held accountable.
We are professionals and therefore, as within any other profession, we need to adhere to specific standards to maintain our professional development. We need to have the backing and support of our authorities to protect our professionalism by giving us the proper tools with which we need in order to do our job. Devolving these powers to schools could be a possible solution to “closing the gap” by having decisions made on the ground, where they will make the most significant impact.
Lindsey McGuire, Cranhill Primary