School chiefs fear regional boards will heap on the pressure

A bureaucratic burden could be placed on education officials as the Scottish government carries out a review of its governance procedures in education, Hayfield officials and elected representatives fear.

The SNP administration says it wants to see more decisions concerning school life taken by head teachers.
But education officials worry more autonomy at school level will only lead to a pile-up of paperwork, keeping head teachers – who often also take classes as well – away from children.

A consultation process over the proposals is underway and will run until 6th January. But calls are already being made for “island proofing” measures to be adopted which will help protect Shetland’s smaller schools.

Key among the worries being expressed are plans to establish regional boards, and what implications those proposals will have on the way schools are run.

Isles MSP Tavish Scott says the Scottish government should come clean on what level of involvement local government should have in provision, insisting the consultation paper, as it stands, is far from clear.

Shetland Islands Council subsidises the provision of education by some £14 million a year.

That will no doubt leave elected members wondering if funding from Holyrood will increase funding to allow for the provision of a regional board.

The Scottish government’s review paper says new educational regions will ensure “best practice is shared more systematically”, and will ensure improvement is driven “collaboratively, deliberately and continuously across Scottish education”.

At the same time the SNP administration says it wants to extend to schools responsibilities which currently sit with local authorities. It also wants to allocate more resources directly to head teachers.

The proposals have raised alarm bells with director of children’s services, Helen Budge, as well as the chairwoman of education and families, Vaila Wishart.

Ms Wishart wants to see unique island needs recognised.

Vaila Wishart – "a critical time for education"
Vaila Wishart

“Head teachers may have more autonomy, but they may have less money and they may have more responsibility that goes with it,” she said.

“Some of them think that they don’t have enough time with their classes. If you ask anybody if they want more autonomy they’ll say yes. But then if you say what strings are attached to it, it might make it very difficult to take on more responsibility, especially in tiny schools.

“One of the things I’d like to stress is the importance of ‘island proofing’ – the need to have a different model for rural areas.”

Mrs Budge voiced concerns that the changes may impact on staff already taking on extra responsibilities in small schools.

“More than half of our schools have teaching head teachers,” she said.

“Obviously, we’re asking them to do a lot in that dual role, and this may mean that they have more to do.”

A draft response is due to go before councillors sitting on the education and families committee next week.

But Ms Wishart says the questions, which have been widely circulated among parent councils, are “vague”.

“They haven’t clearly set out exactly what they are thinking about,” she said. “It seems to be, from the government’s point of view, still work in progress.

Mrs Budge says the volume of paperwork sent from Edinburgh has come thick and fast.

The governance review is being run as part of a wider reaching “delivery plan” – which forces “very, very tight timescales” on those involved.

“We’re trying to make sure the breadth of folk are are responding, as well as taking the report to committee to allow councillors to either endorse this or make changes,” Mrs Budge said.

Mr Scott, who sits on Holyrood’s education committee, said he had held broad discussions with Hayfield officials.

“My concern is that the government’s review will potentially introduce a formal region covering the north of Scotland, including Shetland. I can’t see how that would work in practice.”

• See this week’s Shetland Times for full story


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