Scotland politics

Radical change in how Scottish schools are governed

Classroom Image copyright Thinkstock

The moderate language and conciliatory tone of John Swinney masks the fact that truly radical change could be coming to the way Scottish schools are governed.

To be clear, there will be no English-style academies, no grammar schools or selection on the basis of academic ability.

What may change significantly is the role of councils in the system.

In many respects, the school system is a national service which Scotland's 32 local authorities are entrusted to deliver.

The government has no intention of removing schools from council control - the question is more what powers councils may retain.

The presumption in this review will be to give as much power as possible to schools and head teachers.

If any power lies at a higher level, the case will need to be made for it.

As well as devolving powers to schools, new regional boards will help schools in different council areas work together.

Practical responsibilities

The question is what actual powers and practical responsibilities councils will still have once these changes take effect.

For instance, schools may have more control over their budgets, how many teachers to have or what means to use to try to raise attainment.

Because teachers' terms and conditions of employment are nationally agreed, it might be argued that the new regional bodies - not councils - should actually employ teachers.

All those issues are likely to be raised in the coming months.

The direct impact on parents and learners may be less obvious - much would depend on the practical decisions made by newly-empowered schools.

However, an important question will be how to ensure that schools remain accountable to parents and the wider local community.

The Scottish Conservatives asked whether schools could be given the power to "opt out" of local government control - a power which they do not currently have.

It would not be unreasonable to speculate over just what "local government control" will actually mean once the impact of this review is being felt in practice.

Councils will still be major stakeholders in schools. But their role could be very different to the one they've had in Scotland for the past century.

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