The Commission on School Reform, which is chaired by former Director of Education Keir Bloomer and was set up in 2011 by the think tanks Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, has today published a ‘challenge paper’ addressing the Scottish Government Pupil Equity Fund.
The Pupil Equity Fund is aimed at closing the poverty-related attainment gap and is intended to go directly to schools. In the context of the Scottish Government’s Governance Review, the Commission has described it as a “major step in the direction of greater autonomy for schools”.
However, the Commission has expressed concern at the Pupil Equity Fund’s National Operational Guidance, which in many cases appears inconsistent with the Government’s “presumption……that decisions should be taken at school level”.
A full review of the instances in which headteachers are given prescriptive directions, and in which local authorities are required to play a role contrary to the concept of school autonomy, can be read in the full ‘challenge paper’.
Commenting, Commission member Frank Lennon, a former Headteacher of Dunblane High School, said:
“The introduction of the Pupil Equity Fund is both the first major step towards increased school autonomy and the first major test of the Governance Review’s presumption that decisions should be taken at a school level.
“However, the Pupil Equity Fund’s accompanying guidance gives us concern, even at this early stage. It is highly prescriptive about what schools may and may not do with the money, and places local authorities, not schools, at the heart of the whole operational process.
“Throughout the guidance, deference to local authorities is evident. This may be benign, but it is nonetheless damaging because it is precisely that system from which we need to escape.
“Unless the rhetoric behind the Government’s drive towards school autonomy is matched by the reality, we will simply perpetuate the risk-averse and centralist culture which has been responsible for the lack of innovation to tackle the very effects of poverty on attainment which the Pupil Equity Fund is designed to address.”