THE SNP is facing calls to reveal specifics of its plans for school reform, amid fears the party is considering stripping local councils of their role in delivering education.
In its manifesto, the SNP said it was planning to review the roles and responsibilities of councils generally and outlined plans to create "school clusters" and "educational regions" while transferring power directly to headteachers. It pledges to "extend to individual schools responsibilities that currently sit solely with local authorities."
The Herald's sister newspaper, The Sunday Herald, yesterday revealed that the Scottish Government had held secret discussions over potentially bringing in new regional education boards that would be tasked with delivering sweeping reforms designed to drive up attainment.
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Nicola Sturgeon, who has earmarked education as her number one priority if her party is re-elected, was urged to offer more details of the reforms she had in mind while teachers said they would oppose any moves to strip education powers from councils.
The First Minister has said that she does not plan to introduce English-style academies in Scotland, which see schools operate entirely independently of councils. However, at her manifesto launch last week she emphasised her willingness to consider "things that we didn't previously think we would do" and accepted that some changes in education would prove controversial.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said that regional boards could have a valuable role to play in helping headteachers to work together, particularly in council areas which controlled relatively few schools. However, he made clear that his union would fight any plans to diminish the role of councils in the delivery of education.
He said: "We think there is a crucial role for local authorities in terms of localism and accountability. If we are looking at any structures around regional boards then they should involve local authorities, it shouldn’t be a move towards the centre but a better way of supporting schools and helping them to work together.
"We have trumpeted the involvement of local authorities in schools as one of the strongest points of Scottish education. If proposals were to threaten local accountability then we would oppose that. We are not inclined to support a national education service."
Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, welcomed the SNP commitment to offer more control to headteachers, but described Ms Sturgeon's manifesto as "parlously vague". She added: "It needs to be far more transparent and upfront about what exactly it is planning, and not try to push these plans through the back door."
Liam McArthur, education spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said he suspected the move was designed to "cut local authorities out of the loop altogether on education." He added "We need to know what this shift would mean for local accountability and oversight of our children's schools."
A spokesman for the SNP said: "The creation of new educational regions will support further improvements in school leadership and will implement a key recommendation of the 2015 OECD review, which called for greater collaboration amongst schools – both in and across local authority areas.
"Making sure Scottish education is world class will be the central mission of the next SNP government – it is clear that the only way people can guarantee our transformative plan for education is implemented is to cast both votes for the SNP."