Scotland politics

Scottish schools may receive funds direct from government

John Swinney
Image caption Mr Swinney said it was important that key decisions were made as close to pupils as possible

The Scottish government may seek to give funding directly to schools rather than via local authorities, Education Secretary John Swinney has said.

The government has launched a review of school governance, aiming to "empower" teachers to make their own decisions.

Mr Swinney told the BBC there could be "further financial flexibility devolved to individual schools" which formerly would have lain with councils.

Some council leaders have voiced fears about their role being reduced.

The consultation will run into January 2017, and will be the basis for specific proposals drawn up by the government.

Speaking on the Sunday Politics Scotland programme, Mr Swinney said it was "entirely conceivable" that some power could transfer from councils to head teachers.

'Financial flexibility'

He said: "There may be some decisions that are taken by local authorities that would be taken by schools instead.

"So for example, if further financial flexibility is devolved to individual schools, and they are able to take decisions about the way resources are used within schools, then conceivably some of these decisions would have been taken by local authorities in the past.

"That's entirely conceivable that that's what could happen, because it would give the schools the ability to take decisions that relate directly to the educational opportunities of young people in Scotland.

"But I've made it also clear that I want local authorities to retain democratic control over education services within Scotland, but that I want to encourage a much greater degree of co-operation between local authorities in how they use their services to add value to the educational experience of young people at a local level."

Image caption Mr Swinney's consultation on school governance reform will run until 2017

Asked if this would "erode" democratic accountability of schools to councils, Mr Swinney said there needed to be a debate about decision-making in the education system.

He said: "There has to be democratic accountability in all aspects of our public services, and part of our consultation is exploring how we can take that forward to ensure that we have that necessary relationship of accountability.

"Fundamentally, the question that the consultation is asking is how can we best structure Scottish education that ensures the key educational relationship, between teachers and pupils, is enhanced and supported by the intervention of other bodies and institutions.

"I believe it's in the best interests of the educational journey of young people if decisions about those young people are taken as close to them as possible within schools.

"So I want to open up a debate about what are the right issues and questions and decisions that should be taken close to young people ins schools, and what should be taken at another level."

'Highly inclusive system'

Teaching leaders have cautiously welcomed Mr Swinney's review, but warned against compromising local democratic accountability.

Larry Flanagan, of the Educational Institute of Scotland, the country's largest teaching union, said the Scottish model was superior to the "disasters" taking place in the rest of the UK.

When the review was announced, he said: "The Scottish government has made clear that it does not intend to take schools out of local authority control nor does it intend to mimic the disasters of UK policy in terms of academies or free schools. That is to be welcomed.

"In Scotland, there remains a widely-shared continuing commitment to the core ethos of our highly inclusive system of comprehensive education.

"At a time when the UK government seems determined to embed division - largely based around socio-economic factors - within its school system, it is important that we take a different approach here in Scotland."

The Scottish Conservatives have welcomed the idea of schools having more power, but warned that this "must not be a Trojan Horse for yet more centralisation".

Education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "We have been calling on the Scottish government for years to drive more control and power down to schools.

"If this is what is going to happen under this review, then that is to be welcomed. But as ever with this SNP government, it will need to be watched carefully to make sure it delivers on its promises."

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