Running Education on a Regional Basis

Sharing Services- Running Education on a Regional Basis

If we forced Councils to work regionally to run schools, we could save £Millions- money that could be spent on new smaller schools and smaller class sizes.

The need to change our education system in Scotland is indisputable. On 4th March 2013 the report by the Commission on School Reform report, led by Keir Bloomer, was released. The report, by Diverse Means, was reported on by the BBC. Among its many points:

1. “No school in a disadvantaged area has ever matched the performance of a school in a more affluent area.”

2. “Increased emphasis should be given to developing skills of employability and the importance of vocational education should be recognised as a greater priority in curriculum planning.”

Thanks to Westminster cuts, Scotland is seeing a reduction of almost £3 billion over the four years from 2010 to 2014. (see Alex Salmond refusing to rule out compulsory job losses). On the 10th Sept 2010, the former chairman of the Accounts Commission, Alastair McNish, put out a call to merge Scottish education authorities, so classrooms may be spared the worst of the cuts in public spending. Each Council spends 40% of its budget on education, so merging such departments with neighbouring Councils reduces duplication. Just reducing from the current 32 to the 13 we had back in 1996 could save £500M pa, but could weaken your direct control of them through the ballot box. The only alternative is to regionalise the delivery of schools.

Chief Superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, called for  around half the country’s 32 councils to be scrapped in an attempt to save money (See The Herald of 22nd May 2013). COSLA and ProfRichard Kerley, chair of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, rejected the idea.

We want to learn your views on Mr McNish’s proposal and have set up a 1 minute survey on Survey Monkey: click here to take the survey

We will use the results to feed back to the press what the public think of the idea. To date we have had 34 responses. We need 200. Please ask others to fill it in too.

Regional Joint Boards will Save Money

Many will consider it wrong that the public sector is being made to pay for the banker’s mistakes, but Westminster is clear that massive public spending cuts are needed. The BBC Education Correspondent on the TV broadcast on McNish’s proposal kept asking the same question: can the scottish population of 5 million support 32 Local Education Authorities (LEAs)? Scotland has 1/10 the population of England but we have 32 Education Authorities against their 150. So in England, each LEA serves on average 366,600 people, in Scotland, each LEA serves 156,250.

Kids not suits has used Scottish Government data to calculate that if the merger meant going back to Local Education Authorities (LEAs) based on the old regional councils, ie pre-1996, it would save Scotland £500M pa. (-a reduction from the current 32 LEAs to 9 regions and 3 island areas.)

Just combining East, West, Midlothian and Edinburgh Council LEAs back into one (as was pre-1996 the old Lothian Regional Council) would save at least £81M pa. (data source Tables 5.1 and 5.2 from the Scottish Government site)

So far the Survey KnS is running only shows 26% of the respondents against the idea of merging LEAs. Some of the comments left on the survey can be seen below.

Kids not Suits asked political parties for their views back in October 2010: the Lib Dems were against, Conservative keen to look at change and SNP said they were “open to suggestions from local authorities on joint services“. Labour say that there is a case for looking at whether 32 directorates is the best use of money. Extracts from the manifestos of the various political parties views on scottish schooling for the May 2011 elections can be found below.

The Government Finance Secretary John Swinney estimated that as a result of the 2015 cuts, between 30,000 and 50,000 jobs in the public sector would have to go. There will continue to be redundancies- but if there are teachers in the back office, some of them could be transferred into vacant jobs in schools, since classroms should be protected from cuts. NB Whatever way the cuts are handled next year, there are going to be redundancies. For education, the debate will be about whether we want to cut classroom provision, or merge functions with other Councils.

Robert Black, the auditor general for Scotland, told the BBC on 29th Sept 2010 that the cuts would be “ugly”, “severe” and “dismal”. He went onto say: “I do wish a few years ago, all of us in Scottish society had thought more seriously about the way we’re going as a society with public services, and how we use this investment spend to design services more efficiently and effectively. Those questions are still there, but what we are facing is really severe short-term cuts in areas where we can get expenditure out quickly, and that is going to have an effect on the workforce and on some services people enjoy at present.” And regarding party politics – “We’re all in this together. There’s never been a tougher time to be a politician, and this is an issue that all of us in Scottish society must share together – all political parties and all of us as users of services and taxpayers. It’s too big an issue to be seen as purely a party political issue”.

The problem of having too much Government in Scotland was covered by Glasgow Cllr Jean McFadden long ago in her paper of 1996: “The Structure and Functions of Local Government under a Scottish Parliament” She said “I believe that there must be at least a partial reorganisation of local government once the Scottish Parliament is established.” This has never happened.

A politician told KnS that that he does not see any evidence that the SNP Government are running with the idea of merging education authorities. No Minister driving this forward, just a collection of random people coming out to highlight their own personal views of which McNish is one. For any wholesale reform, the vested interests the Government would have to take on would be substantial, and he does not think that they believe they are politically strong enough to take this on – especially as there is an election on.

Maybe at the Scottish Government, civil servants are drafting up massive public sector reorganisation plans right now, but it’s unlikely- and unlikely that anything will be happening without the First Minister telling them to act. But consultation with local authorities would be suggested- gathering together the evidence base, and putting forward a consultation will take some time, and this is time that we don’t have. In any event, every local authority will oppose change.

If we could get the matter of merging local education authorities discussed sooner, rather than later, our schools will be saved from cuts. However, McNish says that expecting Councils to take the lead would be like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas.

There is no doubt that reducing the number of Education Depts will be a painful process. The options are for Councils to share services through Joint Boads or to reduce the number of Councils. The former could be done through Joint Boards, where 2 or more local authorities control one Dept, with some of the elected members from the various Councils sitting together. Either way, there will be big arguments about location and staffing. Essentially, for Lothian it would mean four LEAs merging into one, so up to 3/4 of LEA staff could lose their jobs. The selection of the lucky staff who would take on the regional grouping would be a nightmare for all concerned, moreso if a completely new organisation were being created. Basic questions as to where should it be located, for instance, could absorb much energy. The simplest approach would be to use the biggest existing Dept in the region and add to it as necessary. Small local authorities will need much convincing to follow this path.

In 2013, 8 councils were planning to share services (see Councils plan to share services). In addition it seemed that West Lothian, Scottish Borders and Fife were in talks about combining education services; East and Midlothian were too (see Councils in talks over plans to merge education services). However, 3 years later little has changed.

Alasdair McNish said on the 17th August 2010 that councils sharing services would not be enough. He thought Scotland could save £1 billion in a decade by a mass merger of local authorities. He called on the number of councils to be reduced from 32 to just 15. The primary heads teacher’s union, the Association of Heads and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS), at its annual conference on 4th Nov 2010, passed a motion saying there should be fewer councils to make education more efficient. See Primary heads call for cut in number of Scots councils.

Centralise LEAs into Scottish Government Control?

If we followed Fiona Hyslop’s suggestion of 28th Nov 2009 of removing education from local government control and running it from the Scottish Government, then we could save a lot of money. The local authorities combined take £1Bn pa in overheads to run schools (data sources Tables 5.1 and 5.2 above). If running them centrally was costed at £200 M (eg 2.5 times what Edinburgh’s overheads are pa) we could probably save at least £800 M pa. It could mean the loss of around 28,000 LEA jobs.

Unfortunately, COSLA kicked up such a stink at this suggestion that three days after suggesting it Ms Hyslop was moved out of her job as Education Minister. But the matter threw up much comment elsewhere. Richard Kerley, one of Scotland’s foremost experts on public services and professor of management at Queen Margaret University, said “Government taking control over schools is a possibility because education is the council service where there is less variation between councils than in any other. Also, it is of a scale that gives the argument for that a lot of momentum.”

There are some good reasons for centralising LEAs. If schools received their budgets directly from the Scottish Government, then the following apply:

1). At present we can have a different education system in a different council area, with one council prioritising education and another prioritising something else. Do we really want post code lottery of education with different councils running education? The problems of having education under council control is that it divides responsibility. It removes the ability of central government to be directly responsible for education. And tends to politicise education. Kids should have basically the same education, wherever they live in Scotland.

2). National standards can only be raised by central control. There would be centralised, planned and unified government management.

3). Any council will never really control education as they are dependent so much on central government for funding etc, the exam system. When councils are of a different party of national government, they are hardly going to work together and not play political games – and that includes all the parties.

4). Fewer vote in Council elections: people vote for a political party at national elections on issues such as education.

5). It is said scottish education has not significantly improved over the past decade despite all the money thrown at it by Labour. As such, why not?. The Scotsman is always telling us Labour in England delivered far more than Labour in Scotland educationally. Why? The question is to look beyond the party political and deliver for Scotland the next generation of children.

The arrangements for running education centrally could be like this:

The Scottish Government would need to have an education committee of all the political parties could be set up to run education, with membership reflecting share of parliamentary seats. It should try to make the objectives cross party as much as possible. Central government would take the strategic view and let local schools run the day to day mgt of teaching kids. It would have political accountability. .

(Fundamentally, school education is about putting a teacher in front of a group of kids in a warm classroom with appropriate resources like computers, books etc and letting them teach.)

The education committee would oversee:

a). Political questions of whether to include misbehaving kids in mainstream education, how schools are allowed to discipline, whether schools can stream, and what outputs schools are trying to achieve.

b) In terms of admissions policy, it should support a kid going to his local school. If there is a need to limit intake, it could follow the London schools, such as the CTC (city technology college in the early 90s) which had to choose a percentage for each educational level and could not just pick and choose who they wanted. Where primary catchments are considered, since we would not be testing 4-year-olds, this should mean drawing a set percentage from the nearest deprived area.

c). The funding formula for schools based on pupil numbers etc additional top ups for need etc.

d). The exam system (Central government would be responsible for this).

e). Central purchasing agreements so that computers etc are bought in bulk.

f). The direct funding from central government would need to work hand in hand with a tough inspectorate

The main issues that would need to be addressed at Council level would be how to manage changing demographics: ie falling school rolls and how to manage closures of schools, building of new ones, etc. LEAs also provide school services such as nursery and early years staff, community centre staff, educational psychologists and therapists, disability workers, Active Schools Co-ordinators, Youth Music Initiative Co-ordinators and instructors, publishing learning materials, curriculum advice and so on. There is also value in the co-ordinating role of the LEAs, in arrangements for feeder schools, co-ordinating enrollments and so on. There is, in addition, much that LEAs do that is not directly around schools (night classes, ABE, etc). It would need to be agreed how much the Council should continue to provide these.

The most difficult aspect of taking schools out of local authority control is that it could lead to a free market in schools. In England this has been created following the creation of Academy schools and allowing a range of “interest” groups to start up and run them. Parents feel obliged to shop around with the result they trawl their child across up to half a dozen schools trying to find the best- which is inevitably over-subscribed. Everyone can feel deflated when they don’t get into the school of their choice and close friends at primary end up going to different secondaries. The feeder system we have in Scotland makes for a less stressful transition from primary to secondary and catchment areas generally keep things local.

Foundation And Voluntary Aided Schools… Trust Schools

There is much to learn from England. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 does not apply in Scotland, but promotes Foundation And Voluntary Aided Schools. The wikipedia page explains such schools take the mantle of Trust Schools, which caused some division in the Labour Party due to the rights they enshrine to select entrants. To summarise: The Act is designed to give greater freedoms to schools, including the possibility of:

* Owning their own assets

* Employing their own staff

* Setting their own admissions arrangements

The whole matter of establishing Trust Schools in Scotland was explored by East Lothian Council in 2010, but there is some opposition by Iain Gray MSP of the Scottish Labour Party.

It was covered in the Scotsman on 10th Nov 2009 “Politicians too quick to dismiss the concept of trust schools” where it explained that the SNP were dodging the issue by “SNP government’s reaction was to hide behind the cloak of “funding and management of state schools would be a matter for the individual local authority”.” They say “Ministers have not been approached on the issue of trust schools.”

The Scottish Labour Party are quite out of step with England here, where the Labour School’s minister said “The trust model has captured the imagination of schools and organisations who have been inspired to want to be part of this exciting programme, and I know that thousands of children are set to benefit from the innovative approaches being proposed by schools seeking trust status.”. As at 2010, Iain Gray MSP, Scotland, Labour’s leader at Holyrood, rejected the modest East Lothian proposal out of hand. He was unimpressed by the idea of trust schools in his constituency and thinks the idea is out of step with the public mood.

The problems of stress in Scottish Schools has been extensively covered recently in late 2012: “Teachers work nine hours of unpaid overtime each week”. And “Compensation record as teacher stress levels soar”. Change is well overdue.

A report published on 4th March 2013 stated that Scottish education reforms have ‘failed the disadvantaged’, The report, “By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education”, says that Scotland performs well overall, being consistently in the top quarter of countries for education results. However, it says the trend has been generally downward and Scotland is being overtaken.


What may work best might be a regional LEA administration where each School would have:

* Power to run their own affairs within a framework set by national government.

* Executive responsibility would lie with the senior school management ie the head and the deputies. They are responsible for the day to day running of the school. ie discipline, teacher mgt. They would have control over hire and fire etc.

* The local councils and parents would have a place on a school board. The board could question the school mgt and control the head’s appointment, as the existing parent council legislation lays down. The head could have a rolling contract so that it is not permanent – so that if they do not achieve, the contract is not renewed.

Schools managing their own affairs is a good idea but many think it has been wrongly been sold as a form of privatisation in the silly arguments between labour and tories in the 80s and 90s. (issues – thanks to Alan B and Margaret L on the Scotsman thread on 28th Nov 2009)

What next?

Therefore, as soon as the spending review was published, the public were looking to Labour and SNP for some answers as to how we deal with the swingeing cuts that have been imposed since 2011 and will continue. If they were to propose merging education authorities sooner, rather than later, it would show the public that these parties were planning ahead to protect scottish classrooms. Right now, it could help if the public suggests to Labour and SNP what they put in their manifesto for future elections.. If you have a view either way, tell the politicians by using the details in the”Get Involved” page.

Survey Comments

“I would go further and take education away from council control. Although there is a lot of management at local levels there is very little local expertise. I also do not think that local councillors have the required competency levels to understand, prioritise and take decisions in such an important area as education.”

“The current system is ridiculously wasteful – dozens of teams around the country all competing with each other to interpret Curriculum for Excellence and put their own local stamp on it.”

“Scottish public education is overmanaged and over inspected. There are too many layers. I am not persuaded that the sort of reorganisation being envisaged will bring more than modest efficiencies. The real issue is the quality of education. We need to drive standards up and reduce the educational bureacracy which has grown like topsy over the years. That means addressing the legislation both intrusive and restrictive!!! ”

“LEAs should be abolished completely – some powers to the Government – most devolved to schools.”

Political Parties: extracts from manifestos

Conservatives: (General Election Manifesto 2010)

“For the last decade, the Scottish schools system‬‪ has seen nothing like even the modest pace of‬‪ reform introduced elsewhere in the UK. In fact,‬‪previous steps taken to diversify the system‬‪ in Scotland have been reversed. We want to‬‪ change this.”‬‪‬‪

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