Teaching unions have criticised the decision to spend thousands on training courses for senior council education staff in the south east of Scotland.

Both the EIS and NASUWT questioned the value of the “significant level of spending” and highlighted the lack of similar financial support for classroom teachers.

A total of 21 members of staff from the across the South East Improvement Collaborative (SEIC) have been enrolled on a programme provided by the Association of Education Advisers (AoEA). The SEIC is  a co-operative body, known as a Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC), which brings together Fife, Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian and the Scottish Borders councils as part of overall attempts to improve educational outcomes for young people.

Each enrolment costs £1400, meaning a total cost of £29,400 for the initial cohort, which is described as a pilot. The SEIC has also confirmed that further funding has been allocated for a second cohort to complete the programme. Upon successful completion of the course individuals become associates of the AoEA but receive no other qualifications.

Read more: The one teaching term that teachers won't use publicly

The Herald can also reveal that the chair of the SEIC, Fiona Robertson, has links to the AoEA, being listed as one of four ‘country observers’ in the Meet the Board section of the organisation’s website.

The Herald asked the AoEA to confirm details of the course that staff would complete and advise which organisations in Scotland recognised their accreditation programme. We also asked them to confirm the circumstances of the initial contact between themselves and the SEIC.

The AoEA responded with a two-page statement referencing the group’s vision, mission and core purpose. It included testimonial comments from various organisations, none of which are based in Scotland, and confirmed that it is “recognised by the American National Association of Elementary Principles. [sic]”

The AoEA also claimed that its “accredited quality standard has been adopted by all the various schooling structures in existence across the U.K., including maintained schools, academies, independent schools, local and diocesan authorities, school federations, multi academy trusts, regional and devolved authorities.”

The statement adds that the group can “provide a consistent and high-quality standard so that school and college leaders are well informed and right for the school’s and college’s setting. We also offer a professional learning programme which is focused on the skills and knowledge required to enable schools and colleges to improve.”

The Herald:

An EIS spokesperson said: "We need to invest in all teachers and ensure that those engaging directly with children and young people in the classroom are given the time and resources to engage in quality professional learning."

Mike Corbett, National Officer for NASUWT in Scotland, hit out at the decision to send senior staff on the course while those working in schools are struggling to access professional development activities and support:

“There’s no doubt that our members will be extremely annoyed to discover that a Regional Improvement Collaborative is spending such substantial sums on CPD for senior staff when they are unable to secure funding for courses costing far less. RICs were supposed to support classroom teachers and there has always been significant doubt about their ability to do so – this revelation just reinforces those concerns.”

An EIS spokesperson reiterated that “access to quality Professional Learning for teachers across Scotland is problematic and called for a change of approach: “The EIS notes the significant level of spending which the South East Improvement Collaborative (SEIC) is devoting for some senior staff to complete a training programme with the Association of Education Advisers. An overview of the programme would suggest that the areas covered in this course overlap with the content of the ‘Into Headship’ programme, Scotland’s national programme for leadership developed by Education Scotland.

“Given that ‘Into Headship’ is designed to prepare senior leaders with the knowledge, skills and understanding to lead diverse school communities and that it is a necessary precursor of appointment as a headteacher in Scotland, we would question what additionality SEIC’s investment in the AoEA course is likely to bring.

“If we want to improve educational outcomes, then we need to invest in all teachers and ensure that those engaging directly with children and young people in the classroom are given the time and resources to engage in quality professional learning.”

Read more: Subscribe to our weekly Secret Teacher newsletter - taking you inside the classrooms

A spokesperson for the South East Improvement Collaborative (SEIC) said: “We’d firstly clarify that Fiona Robertson is not a board member of AoEA but rather one of four observers (one from each of the home countries) whose role is to advise on the provision of education within their respective areas. These roles are not paid, are time limited and do not have voting rights. Ms Robertson does not have any financial or other interest in the AoEA and receives no benefit from its work.

“AoEA is a non-profit organisation that has previously delivered education accreditation programmes in Wales and Northern Ireland, including for the Central South Consortium Wales and Education Authority for Northern Ireland. As both bodies have been extremely positive about the experience, when the SEIC (which has strong collaborative partnerships with RICs in both countries) was looking for a suitable partner to develop professional learning opportunities, it invited the AoEA to present to the SEIC Board members. This was to ascertain if there was interest in working together on a pilot project. The SEIC Board, which has 16 members, agreed to go forward with the pilot, offering what is the first professional course specifically for those advising schools in Scotland.”

The statement from AoEA concludes: “The AoEA is working with a variety of systems and structures across the U.K. These include a federation of maintained schools within the Southwest of England, a network of academies within the Southeast, a Welsh Consortia, Scotland’s South East Improvement Collaborative (SEIC), North of Tyne Combined Authority, a multi academy trust covering a large region. We are also working with the Education Authority Northern Ireland which oversees around one thousand schools. The AoEA is a not-for-profit organisation.”