Expert cautions on Scottish government schools shake-up

By Jamie McIvor
BBC Scotland education correspondent

Image caption, The Scottish government wants to close the attainment gap between children from different backgrounds

A shake-up in how schools are governed will not automatically lead to better results, according to a world expert on education.

Dr Pasi Sahlberg is a visiting professor at Harvard University and a member of the Scottish government's advisory council of education experts.

The government is looking at giving head teachers more powers and the role of councils in the education system.

It is part of efforts to close the attainment gap in Scottish schools.

Dr Sahlberg told BBC Scotland anyone who thought changing governance would improve performance by itself would be disappointed.

But he stressed he was not criticising the government or suggesting that school governance should not be looked at.

He said: "I do not exactly know how much changing the governance would actually change the performance of the system.

"But I think in any system the governance and the leadership... is an important thing to look at and that's why I think any reviews or closer looks at how the system is working are necessary."

Dr Sahlberg added: "I think governance may lead to... changes in the way the system works but expecting that things will change just by changing the governance will probably lead to disappointment."

The review of school governance is an important part of the Scottish government's efforts to improve school performance and close the gap between how well children from relatively rich and poor backgrounds do.

The broad aim is to give as much power to individual schools and head teachers as possible.

New regional boards which will operate across council areas are also proposed.

There is no suggestion that schools will be able to opt out of council control or that councils will not have an important role to play.

However, some in local government fear their role in education - arguably the most important council service - will be watered down or undermined.

Education Secretary John Swinney said members of the council had offered strong advice on the implications of structural change, cultural change and capacity building. He said they were all issues he would reflect on.

Anxiety over change

Firm proposals from the government are expected in the coming months - probably after May's council elections.

The broad argument is likely to be that head teachers are best-placed to decide what may work best for their school and that the new regional boards could make sharing good practice and ideas easier.

New standardised assessments may make it easier to compare the performance of different schools with similar characteristics or, over time, show whether improvements are happening.

Some within education remain anxious in case schools end up with new administrative or bureaucratic responsibilities.

The members of the International Council of Education Advisers are in Edinburgh for a two-day meeting - their second since the body was created last year.

Mr Swinney has made it clear he expects them to provide challenges for the government to ensure reforms are robust.

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