MOVES to make Scottish headteachers directly accountable for closing the attainment gap between rich and poor have been significantly watered down.

A consultation on Scottish Government plans to give more power to headteachers makes no mention of the original commitment.

Instead, the Empowering Schools document says headteachers will have a duty to collaborate with others on “improving learning and teaching”.

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The paper adds: “While we do not intend to hold headteachers to account individually for the impact of other services, we do expect them to work in a collaborative way with other professionals to achieve excellence and equity in schools.”

Herald View: A worrying grey area in plans for school shake-up

Last year, the government said it was committed to extending legal responsibilities for raising standards that currently sit with councils to schools and intends to bring forward a new Education Bill.

The government’s Next Steps document on the creation of a statutory Headteachers’ Charter said heads would “be responsible for raising attainment and closing the poverty-related attainment gap”.

Following the announcements there were concerns the proposals risked the introduction of a suing culture in education with parents taking action against individual heads.

The policy change was attacked by Iain Gray, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party.

He said: “This consultation includes yet more climbdowns and the statutory duty on headteachers to close the attainment gap has disappeared completely.

“It is yet another example of how much of the past two years has been wasted by ministers playing to the gallery and talking tough on education, instead of actually addressing real problems of resource and teacher shortages.”

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, added: “We have concerns as to whether the current proposals will deliver the changes we believe are necessary to see real improvements in educational standards.

“We are disappointed to see a watering down of the accountability of headteachers for raising attainment - something which was previously at the forefront of government proposals and which we believe is vital if we are to improve school performance across the board.”

John Swinney, the Education Secretary, said: “What is important is that we get correct the scope and focus of the responsibilities we want headteachers to take and that’s part of the purpose of the consultation.

“My vision is to make headteachers the leaders of learning to make sure objectives of excellence and equity are realised.”

The move was welcomed by Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland (SLS), which represents secondary headteachers.

He said: “We always had concerns over this aspect of the policy and what we now have is a much more proportionate responsibility which reflects the shared accountability all services must have for closing the attainment gap.”

Herald View: A worrying grey area in plans for school shake-up

The consultation document also raised the prospect of a review of headteacher pay, which unions have been lobbying for.

There is a concern the new responsibilities placed on headteachers will make the job unattractive without a significant hike in salary with a number of long-standing vacancies and a significant reduction in the numbers of deputies wanting to become headteachers.

The document states: “We acknowledge that these reforms will necessitate a review of pay and reward for headteachers.”

However, the document does not address the recent demands of headteachers for business managers for all schools to handle the added bureaucracy that comes with greater responsibility over their finances.

Both the SLS and the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, which represents primaries, want business managers appointed with extra resources.

The consultation states: “If appropriate headteachers should be able to access suitable school business management support."

Mr Thewliss said: “There is concern because they should be an additional resource and not drain school finances."


Beefed up role for parents and pupils in national school shake-up

PARENTS and pupils will be involved more directly in the running of schools under new proposals.

The suggestion is contained in a consultation on a new Education Bill, called Empowering Schools.

The move follows concern that some parents don’t get involved in the running of their local schools either because of a lack of time or because they don’t feel accepted.

Research shows that the greater involvement there is from parents and pupils in key decisions the more likely it is that they attend school and improve their attainment.

The document says new legislation will encourage stronger collaboration between headteachers and parents.

It states: “We intend to replace the current duties on headteachers to inform and consult with their parent council with revised duties to work in a collaborative way. We will specify that headteachers must collaborate on matters relating to school policies and school improvement.”

On the issue of greater pupil participation the document states: “We will include provisions in the Education Bill to ensure that the principles of pupil participation are pursued in every school.

“We intend to provide a general duty on headteachers to promote and support pupil participation in ... decisionmaking relating to the life and work of the school such as policies and improvement activity.”

John Swinney, Education Secretary, said: “We have got some really good examples of pupil and parent involvement around the country where there is a direct influence on helping shape the future direction of the school.

“It is important that we see that reinforced by legislation and it is those objectives that I want to secure as a consequence of how we legislate in this regard.”

Joanna Murphy, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, welcomed the move.

She said: “We are really pleased that the consultation references our recent review into the impact of previous legislation.

“Our main aim is that parents and young people achieve more throughout their education and this consultation recognises that when parents or carers are engaged with their children’s schools this happens.

“We are also pleased with the emphasis on headteachers to work collaboratively with their parent councils and wider school communities over important matters of school development such as improvement plans and the spending of resources.”

Herald View: A worrying grey area in plans for school shake-up

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, which represents the primary sector, said: “This is an important focus and schools are keen to engage as much as possible with parents and pupils.

“Primary schools do a good job of working with families, but there is a recognition that we need to ensure the pupil voice has the right to be heard.

“There is also an appetite for as much parental involvement as possible in the running of schools.”

The Scottish Government will also consider fresh proposals to involve pupils in the formulation of local and national education policy.