SCOTLAND'S system of state comprehensive schools is facing one of the biggest transformations in its 50 year history.

The Scottish Government has unveiled a far reaching review which will see a significant shift of power and funding from councils to headteachers.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, John Swinney, the Education Secretary, said the proposals were founded on the principle that, where possible, decisions should be devolved from local authorities to schools.

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Mr Swinney said this "devolution" would be accompanied by major changes to the way schools were funded with more money given to headteachers and a new national formula designed to give a greater share of resources to schools with higher numbers of disadvantaged pupils.

The minister said the underlying values of Scotland's comprehensive education would be retained and he explicitly ruled out the setting up of privately-run Academies or Grammar Schools, as is the case in England.

However, while he said it was not part of his plan to allow schools to opt out of council control, in reality local authorities are likely to be left with a rump of services such as supporting pupils with special needs or the maintenance of buildings.

Mr Swinney also confirmed the Scottish Government would introduce new educational regions through which councils would be expected to collaborate on the delivery of the functions left in their control.

It is not clear yet whether councils would lose control of the budget for teaching staff or the ability to hire and fire although it is likely these areas would not be devolved and Mr Swinney said terms and conditions would continue to be dealt with on a national basis.

He told Holyrood: "Our guiding principle for the way our schools are run is simple. Decisions should be taken at school level. That will be our presumption and we will place it at the heart of this review.

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"We want to empower our teachers... to make the best decisions for children and young people. They are the professionals charged with using the power of education to change a child’s destiny.

"We will place them at the heart of a system that makes decisions about children’s learning and school life within the schools themselves, supported by parents and the local community."

Mr Swinney conceded that there would "inevitably" be some elements of the system that would have to be responsibility of other organisations.

He added: "Some of the support schools need is best delivered at a local or a regional level. Currently many of these services are delivered by local authorities.

"Local authorities will continue to exercise democratic control over Scottish education at a local level, but we must question how the role of local government can become more effective."

Following the statement, teachers' leaders and opposition politicians questioned the wisdom of removing parts of the school system from council control.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union said: "The focus of any governance review should be on how teaching and learning can be supported more effectively rather than evolving into a turf war between the Scottish Government and local authorities. It is important, also, that schools are democratic places where teachers have a voice."

A spokesman for local authority umbrella body Cosla said: "We know from evidence that it is wrong to treat any aspect of a child’s development in isolation.

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"Councils are uniquely placed to support every need of the child due, in no small part, to the expertise and professionalism of all their employees who make a difference to families every single day."

Iain Gray, education spokesman for Scottish Labour, said there was still a possibility schools could opt out of council control under the plans.

He added: "The SNP government is slashing funding for our schools and now it is introducing new levels of uncertainty in their future.”

And Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith suggested the reforms did not go far enough. "Mr Swinney should cut the evasion and simply back parents who want to save their school by opting out of local authority control," she said.

The School Governance Review will run until January 2017 with the government seeking to bring forward legislation in 2018.