Scottish state schools should be removed from council control and funded directly by the Scottish Government, a leading educationalist will argue today.
Keir Bloomer, an independent educational consultant, believes the current system, in which power lies with 32 local authorities, is outdated and does not allow individual schools to adapt to local needs.
In an interview with The Herald, Mr Bloomer, a former chief executive of Clackmannanshire Council, said this “stagnation” also prevents schools from adapting to the changing needs of the global economy.
And he argues the current structure is hindering the roll-out of the new school curriculum – the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) – which seeks to give back power to teachers over what is taught in schools.
Instead, Mr Bloomer wants to see a system where headteachers have much greater power over what is taught to pupils and how their schools teach, backed up with direct funding from the Scottish Government, channelled through a new Schools Funding Council.
Schools could obtain better quality and better value by outsourcing support functions to the open market
Keir Bloomer, educational consultant
Schools with similar interests could form groupings of their own to buy in cheaper services if they wanted.
And accountability for clusters of schools could be provided by boards or trusts of individuals from the local community, including parents and business leaders.
Mr Bloomer will also argue that schools should be given greater freedom from national state-funded educational bodies such as Learning and Teaching Scotland, which supplies curriculum materials, or the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which sets and marks exams.
His comments, which will be explored at a major Edinburgh conference today on the running of schools, will reignite the debate over how Scottish state schools are run.
In March, Education Secretary Michael Russell called for a wide-ranging discussion on the running of schools and asked for councils – and others – to develop alternative methods.
In particular, Mr Russell cited the example of East Lothian Council, which has put forward a model of community-based trusts managing groups of schools under the guidance of the council.
The Scottish Conservative Party has already come out in support of educational trusts running schools along the lines of the Swedish model.
However, Cosla, the umbrella group for councils, and teaching unions have spoken out against the plan, arguing that schools are part of their communities and the best accountability is provided through democratically elected councillors.
Mr Bloomer told The Herald: “There is a global problem at the moment that education systems are falling behind the needs of the modern world and Scotland is no different.
“Councils are very slow to adapt and so are schools because there is no incentive to innovate – conformity is encouraged and that is backed up by the school inspection regime.
“If CfE is to succeed, it will depend on liberating and empowering schools and individual teachers to take risks, to innovate and to generate new practice and structures, but the institutional structures of Scottish education are no longer fit for purpose.”
Mr Bloomer, who will be speaking today at the Managing Scotland’s Schools conference in Edinburgh, said he believed the system could be reinvigorated by giving more power to schools in the three key areas of funding, support and accountability.
“There is no reason why clusters of schools could not be directly funded and take control of all their functions – from payroll, catering and cleaning to legal advice or curriculum development,” he said.
“Schools often complain that it would be cheaper to have maintenance done locally rather than through a central contract, but they are stuck with what they are given.
“Schools could obtain better quality and better value by outsourcing support functions to the open market.”
Mr Bloomer said he believed a national review of the running of schools should be established by the Scottish Parliament following the next election.