FRESH warnings have been issued over controversial plans to give more power to Scottish headteachers.

Academics said a recent international example of devolving control to schools in Sweden had resulted in a marked decline in standards.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) said the Swedish example had resulted in headteachers becoming bogged down with bureaucracy.

There was also concern from the Chartered Institute of Public Financial Management (CIPFA) Scotland which said schools could be exposed to significant financial risks without the support of councils.

The warnings are included in responses to an official consultation on changes to the way schools are run, which closed this week.

Under the plans, the Scottish Government wants to give more power to headteachers, coupled with direct funding. New educational regions will be set up with a role similar to current councils.

At the start of the consultation, John Swinney, the Education Secretary, said his guiding principle was that decisions should be taken at school level.

However, the RSE’s written submission says international examples of decentralised education systems should be considered.

It states: “Swedish education underwent extensive decentralisation in the 1990s, with much of the key decision-making and budgetary responsibility being devolved to schools. In that time the performance of Swedish students... has declined dramatically.”

The RSE said a recent review of the Swedish system by the OECD found headteachers were “overburdened” by administrative tasks which limited their ability to lead learning.

The body said the Swedish experience meant it was vital ministers conducted a full analysis before any large-scale changes were made.

The response adds: “We are of the view the Scottish Government has not made clear how the proposed changes will lead to improved educational outcomes.

“There is a significant risk that, without this necessary strategic clarity, reform of school governance structures will divert focus, energy and resource away from the overarching attainment priorities.”

There were also concerns from CIPFA Scotland who claimed the changes could leave schools “without adequate direction, support and skills” to manage their finances sustainably.

Don Peebles, head of CIPFA Scotland, said: “Without detailed plans to replace the financial management role of local authorities schools could be left rudderless which would expose them to great financial risk.

“The proposals also raise significant question marks over whether schools have the relevant skills and expertise to manage their own finances.”

Meanwhile, new figures show there has been a decline in the numbers of school support staff since the SNP took power in 2007.

research by the Times Educational Supplement Scotland showed a decline in numbers of administrative and clerical staff, behaviour support staff, library workers, music instructors, foreign language assistants and laboratory assistants.

Other vital staff that have been reduced include educational psychologists and council quality improvement officers. However, classroom assistants have increased from 5,743 to 6,567.

Support staff have been hit because ministers prioritised the maintenance of teacher numbers.