Who actually runs Scottish education?

Students Image copyright Thinkstock

The political debate around education has intensified in recent weeks.

Scotland was classed as "average" for the first time in a major international study of education.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government is carrying out a major review of school governance.

So just how are schools and the education system run at the moment?

In a nutshell, there is a national school system in Scotland which councils are responsible for delivering.

School buildings are the responsibility of councils - they decide how many schools are needed and where they should be built, open or closed, although they have to observe national rules and guidance.

Teacher numbers

The system for closing rural schools was overhauled a few years ago. The government also helps fund some new school buildings through its Schools for the Future programme.

Councils also employ teachers and decide how many there should be. However the Scottish government took steps to reverse the long-term decline in teacher numbers across Scotland.

This year, teacher numbers were maintained or rose in 20 of Scotland's 32 council areas.

The most recent funding deal with local government made it plain that the government expected the ratio of teachers to pupils to be maintained. This happened in all but 12 areas.

However, councils are currently responsible for deciding just how much to spend on schools overall - this could be set to change.

Council boundaries

The government intends to hold a consultation a "national funding formula" for schools. It also plans to give £100m straight to head teachers from next year.

This all fits into a bigger debate about school governance. The question is over just what powers individual head teachers should have, what powers councils should retain and what powers should be given to planned new regional education boards which will work across council boundaries.

The consultation closes on 6 January.

Two national agencies also have important responsibilities - the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland.

The SQA is, by far, the better known to the public. Because of its profile, its staff can sometimes feel they are being blamed by headline writers and critics for things which it cannot reasonably be held to account for.

The main role of the SQA is to set exams and mark them. It took the organisation years to recover its public reputation after a debacle in 2000 when thousands of youngsters received the wrong exam results.

Individual schools

The SQA is also responsible for some of the paperwork which teachers may find frustrating - but some "SQA-related workload" is not actually the direct responsibility of the authority.

The unit assessments that currently form mandatory parts of courses, and the Added Value Units candidates some National 5 candidates complete so they can get a lower qualification if they fail the exam, have been cited by critics.

But was the issue the assessments and units themselves, or how they were sometimes being used locally?

Decisions on how many qualifications youngsters should routinely be allowed to study for have been taken by individual schools and councils.

Image copyright Thinkstock

Some concerns about workload came about because S4 students at some schools were being given the opportunity to study for seven or eight qualifications although six is more common.

Decisions on whether or not to make all students complete Added Value Units were taken too by individual schools or councils.

Some teachers would contend that only students who were at risk of failing the exam should do them - putting all students through them, they argued, was a waste of time for all concerned.

School inspections

The Scottish government recently announced that mandatory unit assessments - assessments which students had to complete before sitting exams - were being scrapped.

Problems with the quality of the exam papers - for example with this year's National 5 computing exam and last year's Higher Maths - are issues which the SQA can be held to account for.

However, the SQA is not responsible for what should be in the curriculum itself.

The design of the curriculum is carried out by Education Scotland, which also provides curriculum guidance and produces material that teachers may want to use in their lessons.

Education Scotland is also responsible for carrying out school inspections and writing reports on them.

Critics claim the agency should be split up and different organisations should carry out its two distinct functions

Councils, the Scottish government, the SQA and Education Scotland all have important - and sometimes related - responsibilities.

Sometimes the exact demarcation lines may not always be obvious - a critic may want to ask whether there is a perceived problem with the system itself, a particular agency or how the system is being implemented locally?

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