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Charities slam Scottish education plans to lessen council responsibilities

Parents and charities have further criticised the Scottish government’s plans to reform the school system, saying it would make no ‘meaningful’ progress on narrowing the country’s attainment gap.

The criticisms echoed comments made by the Scottish teachers’ union, the Education Institute of Scotland, earlier this week as the government closed its consultation period on plans to introduce new regional educational boards, handing funding and power to individual schools, as part of its proposed Education Bill.

Children in Scotland, a collective body representing children’s charities and interest groups, said that the current proposals to lessen local authority involvement in schools will not contribute to reducing the gap between rich and poor pupils.

“We see virtually no evidence to suggest that departing from the current model of education governance would contribute in any meaningful way to closing the gap in attainment,” its chief executive Jackie Brock said.

“It is right that the Scottish government’s determination to address the challenges of excellence and equity is matched by a willingness to hold the whole system to account in order for Scotland’s performance to improve.

“But we struggle to understand the leap from this legitimate and necessary calling to account, to the narrow solution of lessening local authority responsibility for improvement.”

Brock added that it was important to view the government’s proposals in the context of the UK’s current financial pressures, quoting the OECD’s 2015 report that called local authorities “integral” in closing the attainment gap.

The government had said that the report, ‘Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective’, had recommended separating schools from council responsibility, an assertion that Brock sought to correct.

“Sustained cuts to local authority budgets, combined with increases in child poverty rates, represent the greatest barrier to eliminating the educational attainment gap in Scotland – not the current system of school governance,” she concluded.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council also raised concerns, saying that the consultation had left parents “puzzled and feeling excluded” from the debate, comparing it to expecting a patient with a broken leg to understand the inner workings of the NHS.

“It is ironic that a document which has as one of its stated aims that parents should be more empowered, in fact excluded very many parents from participation,” the group’s submission to the government said.

“The consultation presumed high levels of knowledge about the existing governance model in Scottish education and used language which would be familiar only to those working in the sector.”

The Scottish government has committed to further consultation on the new Education Bill, which is expected to take place early this year.

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