By Neil McLennan

JUST before the schools broke up (literally) and parliament went on holidays, education was about to be kicked about like the proverbial political football. The close-season gives some opportunity for reflection. However key questions remain: will our learners be winners in what has been hailed the biggest education shake up in decades? Will the Governance Review of Scottish Education live up to the First Minister’s “resetting the dial” aims, and vitally, result in closing the attainment gap?

The options for the Deputy First Minister were twofold: dramatically increase autonomy and trust in schools to deliver for their own parishes, or, tighten control in the belief that centralisation will deliver on ambitious goals of closing the attainment gap.

Autonomy was expected and that is how reforms are presented. However, they have a strong smell of centralisation that could erode trust. Some headteachers pushed for reducing council control in the 2011-2013 School Reform Commission. However, counter movements defended the status quo of local authorities.

Now headteachers have freedom! However, it feels far from the epic Braveheart movie scenes. In fact the mixture of mild excitement and nervousness has tumbleweed and dust filling the vacuum. Much needs to be clarified and worked through. Alas, timescales for action are short, indeed one can already see them being unachievable unless by steamroller. So headteachers will be able to hire their own staff (could they not do this already?). This would be a bonus for headteachers, if it were not for the staffing crisis. One might ask about freedom in setting salaries to entice in subjects causing serious concern to schools and the economy (Sten subjects). One headteacher of the most improved school south of the Border attributed his ability to set wages as a key factor in his success. Also why no reference to enhanced salaries for primary headteachers? And, whilst heads might be happy with the ability to “hire”, can they “fire”? Some roles, it seems, will stay with local authorities, HR being one of them.

With joined-up approaches one might consider how local authority social work connections are maintained alongside various health boards and Police Scotland divisions. Alignment does not seem to be in place with the focus solely on the education portfolio, rather than a global view of improving outcomes for children. Indeed young people, and definitive outcomes for them, do not appear to feature as explicit as many would want.

The recent leading light in professional learning, the Scottish College for Educational Leadership, is set to transfer to the quango Education Scotland. Furthermore, centralisation is confirmed by new regional collaborative leaders being appointed and reporting to the national education lead. Regional models are neither tested nor accountable directly to local councillors.

A final contradiction strikes at the heart of what the report should have been about – better outcomes for children. The report states that staffing will be for schools, however it then mentions home/school link workers. Surely recent mental health statistics point to school counsellors as a priority? But then, staffing is now in the gift of headteachers, isn’t it?Just as Scottish education was focusing on narrowing the poverty gap, more tinkering. Children first? None of it, centralisation first by the looks of it.

Neil McLennan is Senior Lecturer and Director of Leadership Programmes, Aberdeen University. Holding a number of education roles, he writes in a personal capacity.