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Scottish teaching union warns against ‘distraction’ of government’s school reforms

Scotland’s main teaching union has warned against government plans to reform the influence of councils in the country’s education system, saying that it would be a “significant distraction” from the needs of the sector.

The comments came as the Scottish government closed a consultation period on plans to introduce new regional educational boards, along with £120m of funds for head teachers, in place of the current system whereby responsibility for education lies with individual authorities.

The government hopes that the plans to hand power to individual schools and head teachers will close the country’s attainment gap, but the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) said it is “key” that education remains accountable at a local level.

“Recent tensions between national and local government have led some to question whether the current model of delivery through local authorities is the best means of delivering education at a local level,” said the general secretary of the EIS, Larry Flanagan.

“The EIS does not believe that it would be useful at this point to look at any significant restructuring of the basic relationship between the two arms of government; in fact, we would go further and state that it would be a significant distraction from the real needs of Scottish education to engage in such a process.”

Flanagan expressed caution that schools had the capacity to cope with the pace and extent of the changes, saying that they might “induce an unwelcome element of instability” to the education system.

However, the union welcomed the government’s promise that councils will still have an important role in how schools are run, following fierce opposition to centralisation by the local government body Cosla last October.

“Centralisation is the enemy of everything we stand for in local government,” David O’Neill, president of Cosla, said. “It does not lead to efficiency and effectiveness; it leads to increased cost, inflexibility, an inability to respond to local requirements and lesser outcomes for communities.”

 A Scottish government spokesperson emphasised the government’s “unwavering focus” on improving schools in Scotland as part of its hopes to give the country a “world-class” education system.

“Our comprehensive programme of reform is based firmly on the independent findings of the 2015 OECD review of Scottish education which recommended, among other things, putting schools and communities at the heart of the education system,” the spokesperson said.

“That is why we are reviewing school governance, and we will carefully consider all submissions to our consultation.”

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