Holyrood’s ‘top-down, centralising approach’ to education comes under fire
By RYAN TAYLOR
A planned review of governance in education has come under heavy fire today by members of the SIC’s education and families committee.
The Scottish government in Holyrood was compared with a right-wing Westminster Tory government by one of the committee’s religious representatives, while another member slammed the SNP administration for its “top-down, centralising approach”.
Members had been asked to give feedback to the proposals, drawn up in Holyrood, which aim to hand more power to head teachers.
Draft responses had been drawn up to a list of 17 questions. But at this morning’s meeting the plans were criticised for failing to allow teachers to get on and teach.
Members agreed to beef up some of the answers to the questions and provide a response for Edinburgh which is more “politically-based”.
It follows concerns raised last week by Hayfield House officials that Scottish government plans to give more autonomy to schools risk placing a bureaucratic burden on teachers and education staff. (See last week’s Shetland Times).
Let’s tell the Scottish government it’s their top-down, centralising approach that gives us the most difficulty. GARY ROBINSON
The prospect of new regional boards has also raised hopes that “island-proofing” measures could be introduced for the isles.
Shetland Central member Davie Sandison set the ball rolling, and wondered whether some of the wording could be “much stronger”.
Political leader Gary Robinson said members had the opportunity to express their views forcefully.
“Let’s not hold back. Let’s tell the Scottish government it’s their top-down, centralising approach that gives us the most difficulty,” he said.
Committee vice-chairman George Smith said there was a strong need to recognise Shetland’s “particular circumstances”, which he said were very different from what might be found in the central belt.
Mr Smith said the SIC had shown real commitment to education, but voiced concerns that the local authority risked being “squeezed” if plans to create regional boards go ahead.
“There is a real need for us to use this [response] as a basis for strengthening our position with a much more politically-influenced response,” he told members, although he stressed he was not criticising staff for wording the responses in the way they had.
“We have been, for the lifetime of this council, stressing the need for island-proofing. We need recognition by the Scottish government that, by our very nature, we’re different from other areas and we can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to this.”
Religious representative Martin Tregonning warned schools should not be run as “mini-businesses”. He drew parallels between the “supposedly” left-wing SNP administration in Edinburgh and a right-wing Tory government in London.
He also drew on his previous experience as a governor of a state-run school in England, which had devolved authority, and warned of a situation where head teachers were taken away from the teaching environment.
“We had head teachers spending huge amounts of time discussing the electricity contract for the school, and how to save money.
“One of the benefits of the way Scottish education is structured – in Shetland in particular – is that the job of teachers is to teach, and not to be administrators.
“The best feature of the Shetland education system is that we free up our teachers and head teachers to teach, and we don’t ask them to run schools as mini-businesses”.
He said he was “very surprised” by the approach from a “supposedly left-leaning Scottish government”.
“This is something I’d expect from a Conservative government minister in England.”
Criticism has been levelled at the wording of the questions.
Religious member Tom McIntyre gained support after asking whether there was scope for an “additional statement” over and above the standard responses to the consultation.
Director of Children’s Services, Helen Budge, said some national bodies had not answered the questions at all, but had merely put in statements in response.