In December 2015 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ( OECD) published its report 'Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective'. In September 2017, building on advice from the OECD and the International Council of Education Advisers, responses to Empowering Teachers, Parents and Communities to Achieve Excellence and Equity in Education – A Governance Review and the commitments set out in the Education Governance: Next Steps paper, the First Minister committed to a new Education Bill to deliver a number of reforms. The primary focus of this Bill is to create a school- and teacher-led education system that will empower schools, school leaders, parents, pupils and communities.
The consultation paper 'Empowering Schools: A consultation on the Provisions of the Education (Scotland) Bill' was launched in order to obtain views on these proposals. The Consultation opened on 7 November 2017 and closed on 30 January 2018.
There were 674 replies to the consultation: 307 organisations, from across a range of sub-groups, along with 367 individuals, submitted a response. There were also responses to one campaign, which attracted 196 submissions of their standard text.
A wide range of views were presented in response to the consultation paper, although it should be borne in mind that these views do not represent those of the general population but reflect the views of those who submitted a response. Any figures quoted cannot be extrapolated to a wider population outwith the respondent sample.
Throughout the responses, a wide range of differing opinions were cited, with no clear consensus on many of the proposals presented in the consultation paper. In general, small or very small proportions of respondents made specific comments to open questions, usually at a level of 10% or less. It is possible to ascertain where the weight of balance lies in responses to closed questions, although significant proportions of respondents (usually around half) did not offer an opinion.
In general, there was support for the principles behind the Education (Scotland) Bill although there was less support for legislation to enshrine these principles. Small proportions of respondents either acknowledged support for, or the importance of, various elements of the Bill, although similar proportions also noted their opposition to different elements of the Bill. Some respondents noted that various elements of the Bill already take place and queried the need for legislation; for example, around pupil participation, parental and community engagement or headteachers making decisions on how funding allocated to their schools for the delivery of school education is spent.
A number of key themes emerged across consultation responses.
Collaboration was recognised by respondents as being important at all levels of the education system. Responses identified a clear desire to protect and enhance the teaching profession and to preserve a significant and meaningful role for local authorities in the provision of education. Respondents noted a desire for clarity over the roles and responsibilities of the Regional Improvement Collaboratives and local authorities. Throughout responses, respondents also requested further detail and clarity on many aspects of what was being proposed. The need for adequate levels of funding, resources, support, guidance, training and sharing of good practice was also highlighted. Respondents also commented on the need for transparency, accountability and oversight in decision-making.
Some respondents raised general issues in relation to the current education landscape in Scotland, focusing primarily on the current shortage of teachers and headteachers, attainment levels and reduced levels of funding.
The following paragraphs outline the main findings from each of the five consultation sections.
While there was support for various elements of the Headteachers' Charter, a number of respondents noted that these elements are already underway in schools, with some suggestions that there is no need to enshrine this in legislation. For example, respondents noted that headteachers are already empowered as the leaders of learning and teaching and as the lead decision-maker in their school.
A significant minority of respondents identified the need for, and importance of, collaboration across a wide range of different audiences including school staff, the school community, parents and the wider community. However, there were some comments that it could be challenging to ensure that a wide range of parents and individuals from the wider community are effectively involved in school planning. There were also references to the need for collegiate working between headteachers and their staff.
A significant minority of respondents also noted a need for consistency so that all schools are teaching to the same level and offering consistency in curricular design as well as being fully inclusive. There were some concerns that the Headteachers' Charter could introduce inconsistencies across Scotland, with some headteachers focusing on specific subjects at the expense of others.
Small proportions of respondents had a desire for local authorities to maintain their current role as providers of support and advice to headteachers. Additionally, a small proportion of respondents queried whether local authorities will continue to deliver their statutory duties, for example, in terms of Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) or Additional Support Needs ( ASN); as well as in relation to central services such as estate management, IT infrastructure and other areas of procurement where economies of scale can be achieved. Allied to this, there was also reference to the potential for tension between the Regional Improvement Collaboratives ( RICs) and local authorities in discharging responsibilities. Some respondents also felt that regional priorities could not cater for local needs.
While there was general support for the concept of headteacher empowerment, and some advantages of headteachers having increased freedom in relation to staffing decisions and school funding, there was some concern expressed that the introduction of the Headteachers' Charter could increase headteachers' workloads and lessen their focus on their core role of leading learning and teaching. Furthermore, there were concerns that headteachers lack the necessary skills or expertise to undertake some of the envisaged roles of the Headteachers' Charter, particularly in relation to business management and staff recruitment.
A small proportion of responses sought clarity as to the impact of the proposals on the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers ( SNCT) and Local Negotiating Committee for Teachers ( LNCT) arrangements. Related to this, some responses also questioned the impact of the Headteachers' Charter on current processes for the redeployment of teachers.
In relation to staffing specifically, concerns were raised that headteacher bias could affect recruitment processes. Consultation responses also discussed the current challenges of attracting and retaining high calibre staff, particularly in rural areas and / or small schools.
Of those who responded to the question on funding, there was much greater support for headteachers to be able to decide how the funding allocated to their schools for the delivery of school education is spent, than not.
Parental and community engagement
A higher proportion of respondents considered the broad areas for reform to the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 were correct, than did not. While there was support across all respondent groups, the highest level of support came from parent councils / fora. However, as with views on the Headteachers' Charter, while there was support for the principles behind parental involvement, there was less support for legislation to enshrine this, possibly in part because some respondents noted that schools already involve parents in decisions. Some respondents felt that no change is necessary. While there was support for parental involvement and acknowledgement of the need to involve a wider range of parents, there were concerns of the difficulties in ensuring that a wide range of parents are involved.
There was some support for meaningful consultation by headteachers with parents on substantive matters of school policy, improvement planning and curricula design, although some respondents again noted that this already takes place. Respondents noted the need for a range of different communication channels, strategies and support for engaging parents and to ensure that parental engagement is fully inclusive.
Greater proportions of respondents agreed that the duties and powers in relation to parental involvement should apply to publicly funded early learning and childcare settings than disagreed. The key reason for this was that there should be consistency and parity across all levels of the curriculum.
The proposals in relation to parental and community engagement received support across all respondent sub-groups, although highest levels of support were from parent councils / fora, schools and, to a lesser extent, individuals.
There was majority support, across all respondent types, for the Bill to include a requirement that all schools in Scotland pursue the principles of pupil participation. There was also support for pupil participation to be included in the Headteachers' Charter, although to a slightly lesser degree.
A significant minority of respondents noted the importance of pupil participation, and some noted this already happens. As with parental and community engagement, there were comments on the importance of ensuring that pupil participation is fully inclusive and meaningful.
A significant minority of respondents were supportive of a general duty as this allows for flexibility to suit circumstances or to try innovative approaches. There was less support for specific duties as these were perceived by some to be too prescriptive.
Regional Improvement Collaboratives
More respondents agreed than disagreed that the Bill should include provisions requiring each local authority to collaborate with partner councils and with Education Scotland in a Regional Improvement Collaborative ( RIC). There were some comments that the Bill should not include provisions requiring each local authority to collaborate with partner councils (as this is already done) and for no change to local authorities' statutory responsibilities in this respect.
Small proportions of respondents queried the geographical coverage of the RICs and their broad range of different settings; as well as their ability to deliver the required services across their area. There was a perception from a very small number of respondents that the establishment of the RICs is a move toward centralisation and is at odds with the concept of local collaboration and accountability. There were also some concerns over the potential for RICs to create an additional layer of bureaucracy and increased administration.
A higher proportion of respondents agreed than disagreed that the Bill should require each RIC to maintain and publish annually its Regional Improvement Plan. A key positive was that this allows for transparency and clarity. There were also a small proportion of requests for improvements to be driven by local plans and for priorities within the Regional Improvement Plan to be relevant to local areas.
Views were polarised as to whether RICs should be required to report annually, or whether less frequent reporting would be a more practical and effective approach. The key reason from respondents arguing for a longer reporting period was that time is needed to implement changes and assess results. There were some suggestions for reporting to be every 2-3 years to allow time to implement improvements; and some comments that a longer planning cycle allows for greater engagement and longer term strategic planning. There were also some requests for plans and reports to align with other children's services cycles.
There was support for the frequency of national improvement planning and the requirement on Ministers to review the National Improvement Framework to be reduced.
An Education Workforce Council for Scotland ( EWCS)
Views were slightly more in favour of the proposed purpose and aims of the Education Workforce Council for Scotland ( EWCS), although a considerable proportion were not in favour. There was a degree of concern over the loss of the General Teaching Council for Scotland's ( GTCS) role, with some respondents supporting a continuation of existing bodies such as GTCS, the Scottish Social Services Council ( SSSC) and Community Learning and Development Standards Council ( CLDSC).
Reference was made to the need for collaboration and collegiate working across all relevant sectors and the need to recognise different types of learning and achievement and offer profesionnal development opportunities based on existing frameworks for standards.
A wide range of different roles and functions were cited as being subject to mandatory registration with the proposed EWCS and there was widespread support for the EWCS to be required to consult on the fees it charges for registration.
In terms of the principles that could be used in the design of the governance arrangements for the proposed EWCS, respondents cited the need for representation of all workers and parity of esteem across all registered professionals. The key principles cited were openness, transparency, and accountability.
Respondents cited a wide range of possible names for EWCS, although some respondents noted that the name is less important than the way in which the organisation operates.