Community Based Management of Schools 2017 – Witness Statement (1)

This is the first of six Witness Statements from 2017 reflecting upon the implementation of Community Based Management of Schools in East Lothian.


I’ve been asked to reflect upon our experience of establishing a Board of Management for our Community Cluster of schools.

Looking back it’s hard to believe that we first started to talk about this over seven years ago. At that time the education system had remained virtually unchanged in Scotland for nearly 40 years, characterised by what most of us now recognise to be the cosy inter-dependency between between schools and local authorities.

In 2011 I was an innocent member of a our Parent Council and had stumbled into becoming one of the PC representatives on our Cluster Management Board. I didn’t have any particular expertise but I fulfilled one of the criteria they had set down in that I had a background in local voluntary service. On reflection the matrix approach whereby the Board had to be made up of a mix of people with different backgrounds and areas of expertise has perhaps been one of the most important things in making it the success it has eventually become.

I remember when we were setting up the Board for the first time how threatened Headteachers had been by the thought  that they were going to be accountable to a bunch of amateurs who would only serve to interfere in their business. I suppose that was a legitimate concern and it might have been the case had we not been given the support in the initial stages to develop our expertise and capacity to understand our role and the world of education.

Our Cluster had been the third East Lothian community to volunteer to establish a Board of Management. We’d left it a year as we wanted to spend time developing our skills and understanding prior to making the leap. I know that one of the two initial communities who volunteered really struggled due to their resistance to accept any external help in the development phase. They had leapt into making key strategic decisions without properly understanding the consequences of their actions on the long term viability of education in their community. Perhaps their key mistake had been to see themselves in opposition to the other communities in East Lothian and that their success would only come about of they were able to draw in pupils from other areas, thereby maximising their income at the expense of other communities. However, they had not taken into account that the authority had changed the funding system to only fund a student from outwith a community to the sum of 50% of a similar student from within the community. The result was that although schools rolls had increased, their equivalent budget was greatly reduced.

A second problem with the early adopters had been that they had not grasped the change in relationship between the authority and the schools. In the previous system the authority always held back a sum of cash in the centre to cover unforeseen eventualities such as long term absence, emergency repairs, or even sending children to residential homes. The new system had seen all of that funding stripped out of the centre and devolved to the Board of Management and Headteachers in the Cluster. Yet six months into the first year one of the Clusters had come back to the authority asking for more cash as they had run up a huge bill for paying for an enhancement to their ICT system. Of course the authority had no option but to refuse to help out as remaining funding was now directed to the other schools who had not adopted the Community Based Management status.

This had proved to be an important lesson and had certainly focused our minds when we decided to embark down this path. It has proved to be a steep learning curve for our headteachers who have become much more independent and business focused which has led to much improved use of assets and budgets than had been the case previously.

This leads me neatly into describing the management structure which we have developed in our Cluster. The early adopters had moved quite quickly to appointing a Chief Executive/Principal of their Community Cluster from one of their Headteachers. Having seen how this system had so quickly centralised power and disenfranchised the other Headteachers we wanted to avoid a similar scenario in our own community. We were perhaps fortunate to have a group of outstanding Headteachers, who despite managing schools of disparate natures and sizes, seemed to to appreciate the benefits of working together as part of a team. Following advice from the support team which the Authority had put in place to help our transition we established a system of leadership rotation on an 18 month cycle. The Cluster Leader does not receive any more pay but does receive additional management support in their school for the duration their responsibility.

The wonderful thing about our Management Meetings is that they really do focus upon the education process as it affects our community. As someone who has a natural leaning towards the early years it’s been great to have discussions which sees this stage clearly within a 3-18 perspective. The other remarkable outcome of the change has been that it has reduced the workload of staff in our schools. The fact that most of our developments are shared across our schools means that we avoid the repetition of effort which so characterised the previous system.

Our Board meets once every two months but the various sub-committees meet in the intervening months. I’ve served on the Community Engagement; Literacy Development; and Finance Committees over the last five years. Each committee has a range of representatives and at least one of the Headteachers as an advisor. One the great successes has been to involve young people as members of our committees. The fact that they see that they can influence policy and associated budgets has really changed how they perceive their place in our community. The second advantage of the Cluster approach is how we have been able to capitalise upon the incredible range of expertise within our community. I was always a bit worried that the approach would just ask parents on Parent Council do have to do even more – with the result that it just scared people away. The fact that we have eight schools to draw parent representatives from, plus the fact that we can draw in a similar number of community representatives, has really strengthened our capacity to conduct our business in a professional manner. Oops – just about missed out one of the most important groups on the Management Board – the teachers themselves. This has been a revelation, particularly in relation to budget issues, where the financial transparency has helped to create a true community solution focused approach to meeting some of our key challenges.

I know one of the other concerns people had with the initial proposals was that Parent Councils would become marginalised by the establishment of a Board of Management. The key to avoiding this has been in the protocols and rules of governance which we and the Local Authority put in place at the outset. By having real clarity regarding responsibilities and duties have avoided some of the problems which plagued the early adopters – namely what happens when some schools want to do their own thing. By ensuring that we all signed up to a collective partnership has ensured that such an outcome has been avoided.

Our relationship with the Local Authority has waxed and waned over the last five years. I think they have had as many problems with the shift as we have had and have particularly found it difficult to realise that they have to “let go”. Nevertheless, I think we now have it just about right with the Authority having established a clear set of outcomes for us to achieve and a clearly understood funding mechanism. In the first few years the funding seemed to have too many strings attached and we felt that we were just replicating the previous system in another guise. However, as the Authority has become more confident in our ability they have also realised the benefits to be had from giving us more autonomy.

One of their biggest concerns related to how we would support the needs of the most vulnerable in our community, whether they have learning difficulties, behavioural problems, disabilities, social or emotional problems, or issues in home circumstances. It’s probably in this respect that we have all had to make the most significant changes in our outlook. I know that when I first came onto the Board I was of the opinion that the Authority was simply shifting the financial burden from the themselves to the local communities. However, as we became more experienced we began to see that many of the extra costs for which a budget was retained at the centre could be better managed if devolved to us. One of our great successes has been in relation to residential care budgets. When we asked how much had been spent on children from our community to provide them with residential care either in East Lothian or beyond over the previous four years we were staggered by the total, e.g. up to £4000 per week per young person. We negotiated with the Authority to devolve this budget to us based upon an average of the previous five years. They agreed to devolve this to us less 15% – on account that they reckoned that they needed to keep some capacity to manage eventualities elsewhere in the Authority.

We have used this money to invest in our child and family support system in our community. This is a specialist team of employees who work in our schools in an the community to support our vulnerable families and children. The fact that it’s done by us for us has also enabled us to establish a team of volunteers who enhance our provision. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that this has had a really positive effect on how we feel about our community.

Of course finances have been incredibly tight over the last few years. The fact that our budget reduced by nearly 10% in the first three years didn’t help but the fact that we were able to gather together some of the funding streams into a single community pot helped us to create some very creative solutions to our problems. This was particularly the case when we established a shared administrative support team for the schools in our community and linked them with the Business Manager in the secondary school who now supports all of our schools. We also have a large number of staff who work either between primary schools or between primary schools and the secondary school. This has really enhanced the notion of a collaborative community and has dramatically changed the idea of there being different sectors – certainly our kids don’t see it as being a huge shift – particularly as the curriculum for P7 and S1 curriculum is delivered by a single team of staff.

Of course, we are still looking at the potential of seeking Charitable Trust status. The real incentive is that it would save us from paying non-domestic rates which currently amount to nearly £600,000 for all of our schools. I know that there are members of staff who worry about that transition but their concerns are certainly a lot less now than they were when we first embarked upon this journey.

I know that I’ve only been able to touch upon just a few of the vast range of challenges and opportunities that have emerged since 2012. Nevertheless, I doubt whether any of us would want to return to the previous system. As I recall the original proposal was to promote community ownership of schools – I can assure you that although that journey has been bumpy it has certainly been worthwhile – both for the children and staff who have benefited from the change – and most certainly for our communities who have been drawn together as never before in a common enterprise.

If you have any questions I’d be glad to try to answer them if you leave a comment.

Co-operative Schools: something in the air?

Our ideas for Community Ownership of Schools received some unexpected publicity today in the Scotsman.

It’s interesting that this came out today at a time when I was about to post some of my recent research into the UK’s Government’s support for the Co-operative Trust Model .  Ed Balls, the Cabinet Officer with responsibility for education is quoted as saying:

“I want to see more parents and communities actively involved in schools and the co-operative model is an ideal way to do this. This is about putting power in the hands of those who are directly engaged with local schools, and who know best what is needed in their area.”

Certainly this model chimes quite closely with what we intend to explore and consider in East Lothian – albeit with a very Scottish slant.

The Conservatives also launched their own particular vision for co-operative schools today.

Must be something in the air?

Politics Show Scotland: Community Ownership of Schools

The BBC’s Politics Show Scotland carried a piece on our evolving ideas for Community Ownership of Schools.  It was headlined as being about Trust Schools and showed two very interesting reflections on Jordanhill School in Glasgow and Ashington Learning Partnership in England.

You can see the programme on BBC iplayer for the next seven days.  You need to scroll along to the last 15 minutes of the show.  Dave Berry, East Lothian Council’s Leader; Keir Bloomer, former Director of Education from Clackmannanshire; and Anastasia De Wall, a social policy analyst from Civitas took part in a studio discussion with Glenn Campbell.

Postcode Lottery Explored

“It’s a Postcode Lottery” is a recurring term used to highlight any difference in provision of services between one area and another. 

The underlying assumption in all such cases is that this “lottery” is unfair and that services should not be dependent upon the “luck” of where one happens to live, i.e. they should be exactly the same throughout the country.  I’d started to tease this out in a recent article entitled “Uniformity or Diversity” and wanted to explore this concept a little further. 

“Postcode lottery” is, without exception, employed as a disparaging term.  Here are just a few headlines to demonstrate this:

All of the above use the term “postcode lottery” as shorthand for something which is unfair and can only be rectified by a change to situation where provision is identical – regardless of where you live.  But what if you were to take the opposite perspective, i.e. begin to see variation and diversity as a strength – not a weakness?

You see my problem lies with the fact that things are different from one community to another.  Things have never been identical.  Just because things are different doesn’t mean that they have to be worse – just as we mustn’t think that just because things are identical that they must be automatically better.

I’ll exemplify this using two secondary schools in an authority.  They are both allocated an identical amount of money through a formula allocation. The only way the authority could avoid being accused of creating a “postcode lottery” would be to give each school definitive guidance on how every pound was to be spent in each of the schools.  All of the following (and much more) would have to be identical: the curriculum, the times for each subject identical, the quality of teachers, the extra curricular activities, the discipline system, menus for lunches, the subjects to be taught at all levels, pupil support systems, etc, etc.  Any divergence between the two schools would fall into the trap that is a “postcode lottery”.  Of course, some would claim that I’m being too extreme here only to make my point – but I’d argue you can’t have your cake and eat it.  You either accept variation or you don’t!

Variation within postcodes is a reality – it exists and the sooner we realise that the better.  Surely the real challenge is not so much to ensure that things are identical but to ensure that the quality of service provided in every  postcode is of an exceptionally high standard. 

So if variation exists how might we turn it to our advantage?  It’s here that I would return to the theme I’ve been exploring for some time now i.e. community ownership of schools.  For if a community decides that it wants to see its schools diverge from what the schools in the next community are doing – in order to meet its priorities – why shouldn’t it be allowed to do so?

There are more than enough legislative guidelines in place to ensure that the needs of individuals within each community can be protected within such an autonomous system.  The real challenge lies with the funding body who need to find a way to ensure that each community achieves national and local outcomes – but is given the necessary freedom to find its own approach to achieve these outcomes.  That really is the $64,000 lottery prize!

Community Ownership of Schools Conference

It looks like our conference to explore the concept of Community Ownership of Schools will hopefully take place on the 1st April (no joke) at Queen Margaret University.

I’m working with Professor Richard Kerly to pull the conference programme together. We intend to invite all East Lothian Headteachers, all elected members, a parent representive from every school, representatives from our communities, a range of managers from other council services, key Council Partners, union reps, local employers, staff from QMU and some representatives from the Scottish Government.  That will take us up to nearly 200 with another 50 spaces available for people from other authorities.

QMU are going to try to livestream the conference.

I’ll post the programme here by the end of next week.

Suggestions for the conference programme are welcome.

Radical Efficiency: ‘different, better and cheaper’

I’ve been corresponding with David Jackson of the Innovation Unit who has referred me to the work the Unit has being doing in relation to what they describe as “Radical Efficiency”.

The basic premise is that it’s possible to reduce costs and improve services. As someone who’s at the sharp end of making reductions in budgets I know how sceptical people are when you suggest that this must be our goal.  It’s good to find a model which actually sets this out ina coherent manner.

Thew following is lifted from their wikisite

From operational efficiency to radical efficiency

All of these elements are important and powerful. But it is how these components are combined that determines whether or not an innovation is just operationally efficient (‘same for less’) or radically efficient (‘different, better and cheaper’). For an innovation to be radically efficient, it must employ components both above and below the line.

Operational Efficiency: ‘same for less’
Innovations that employ only the two components that lie below the dotted line offer new solutions to old problems. This is using different resources and maximizing the usefulness of existing ones to offer ‘same for less’.

This kind of innovation basically takes the system – or desired ends – of public services as given and static. This is not to say that exciting innovation is not possible here. User involvement, as discussed earlier, is evident in all segments of the model and is capable of reshaping existing services with dramatic results.

The Arizona Department of Corrections[1] offers an excellent example of this kind of innovation in practice. By engaging recent inmates in the design of programmes that help prisoners to re-integrate into society, savings are made both in the short term and the long term. In the short term, resources are not wasted on expensive programmes that have little impact. Less money can be used on different inputs. In the long term, the prevention of recidivism could have a major impact on the budgets of many public services – from health to policing.

But in any example of this type, prisons are still prisons. The effectiveness of service delivery has been improved but something even more significant is still possible.

Radical efficiency: ‘different, better and cheaper’

Innovations that employ three or four components of the model – that is, above and below the dotted line – offer something truly different, better and cheaper.

Radical efficiency turns the role of provider on its head – they are no longer solution ‘deliverers’, crafting better answers to decades-old questions about how to provide a standardised welfare state for mass consumption. They are pioneers of a new type of public service, asking sometimes difficult questions about who they are trying to serve and what they are trying to achieve.

We only have to look as far as the success of The Open University to see the power of rethinking the possible clients of higher education and the resources best suited to doing so. Designing a system around previous ‘non-customers’ who were unable to participate in expensive, full time, residential education, and taking advantage of cheap, unused bandwidth on public television (amongst other things) has resulted in a system which today serves over 150,000 undergraduates. Unit costs per student are significantly lower than those in the traditional system.

Some of the world’s most well respected, game-changing innovations clearly fit here. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh did not keep hammering on the question of how the question of adverse selection (unreliable borrowers defaulting and making loans too expensive for reliable members of the community) could be solved in its existing micro-finance system. Instead it asked afresh how capital could be made available cheaply for the small business investments that play a major role in development. It reconceptualised who its customers should be (mostly women – the ones responsible in practice for family business investments), it reconceptualised who its suppliers should be (members of the local community who know each other) and what its available resources were (close-knit groups of women who know all about each others lives, their reliability and who were able to issue meaningful social sanctions against defaulters). All this was initiated not by the old system-designers (private lenders) but by a new ‘knowledge-generator’ – Professor Muhammed Yunus – an economist who has since been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. This was a whole new system in microcosm, which has since been replicated throughout and beyond Bangladesh.

So Grameen represents radical efficiency that re-thinks the challenges its community faces (and the outcomes it wants to see) as well as employing different resources to make those outcomes happen more effectively. In doing so, it seeds a whole new system, rather than perpetuating the existing one.

In health, education and social care, we can see equally compelling examples from across the globe. In the UK, School of Everything[4] starts from the premise that ‘everyone has something to teach, everyone has something to learn’, offering a new conception of adult education and new tools for teachers and students to connect and agree fees. In a totally different context, a mental health first aid kit developed in Australia enables friends, colleagues and family to help keep people healthy (and prevent costly, crisis interventions), whilst lunar powered street lights in San Francisco (that dim when the moonlight is sufficient to illuminate the area) help save money and the environment.

Incorporation of Scotland’s Colleges: A Scottish example of local automomy and accountability in action

John McCann, Director of Next Practice at Scotland’s Colleges, has kindly provided me with a piece on the development of Scotland’s Colleges from their Incorporation in 1993 when they gained their own autonomy. 


I will be returning to this on numerous occasions over the next few months.




Any reasonable commentator on the lifelong learning landscape in Scotland would conclude that colleges are in a good place. The most recent (2009) HMIe Report on Improving Scottish Education concluded that there were no systemic weaknesses in the sector and anticipated colleges being at the forefront of contemporary education challenges. Further, and while these things are always transitory, there has been significant political goodwill recently reflecting college reputation for responsiveness to changing contexts.

 There are a number of factors which have contributed to this position – strategic leadership, flexible curriculum arrangements, staff development, funding drivers, …. However, the significant structural element has been the ability of colleges, as autonomous institutions, to act with agility in addressing changing circumstances.

 Formally, colleges became incorporated institutions in 1993 when they moved from local authority control and the modern college movement begun. It required legislative action with momentum generated by a combination of political will, a particular vision for public services and educational rationale. While the legislative procedure was accelerated, it was seen as the next stage in a process.

 Political Context

 The political context throughout the 80s was one of significant reform of public services with encouragement of private sector thinking to public service provision. Some public services were ‘privatised’ while all were required to be customer focused and to reflect this in the quality of service delivered and the accountability mechanisms developed. Competition became the driver for efficiency gains and quality improvement. The prevailing thinking was that of a shift away from central control towards provision of local services to provide local solutions which met local needs and had local accountability.

 A further political driver was that of the unpopular ‘poll tax’. This was introduced in line with the prevailing political philosophy and never attained acceptance as a fair way of contributing to the costs of public services. One tactic was to take services out of local authority responsibility and, in so doing, remove an expenditure burden providing an opportunity to reduce local taxation. The political judgement was of a more favourable perspective on poll tax.

 Finally, there was significant activity in reforming the university sector. As part of the ‘liberating’ ethos, the binary divide was removed with a large number of institutions becoming universities. The regulating body for degree awards was abolished and the country turned away from an elitist approach to higher education to one of widening access in line with other developing countries. Access to education and, from that, provision of a highly qualified workforce, was seen to be critical to success in the new context of knowledge economies and emerging demands of globalisation.

 The political conditions were right for incorporation of colleges; a number of boxes were ticked and a number of helpful steps had been undertaken on the road. For example, college councils had been formed and, in some authorities, there was significant delegation to individual institutions – schools as well as colleges.

 Educational Context

During the 80s, educational systems had to respond to new demands created by major shifts in the economy. Scotland’s traditional economic base – manufacturing, engineering, shipbuilding, mining – collapsed to be replaced by a service economy. The extent of this shift was such that it has attracted the descriptor ‘revolution’ by some contemporary commentators. A second set of demands was generated by the ubiquity of technology with the ready availability of cheaper, more powerful processors. Business processes were being fundamentally restructured.

In contrast to the pace of change in society, educational systems were ‘measured’ in their response to changes. Inevitably, change was demanded to make the system better suited to modern demands. In schools, the age of the initiative was born. In colleges there was two major changes.

The first was reform of the ‘non-advanced’ qualification structure. It took many forms and subject to perspectives of a multitude of employer bodies. ‘Action Plan’ was designed to bring coherence to the curriculum and to change the delivery paradigm to ‘student centredness’. The National Certificate ‘module’ was born which described provision in terms of the outcomes which learners were to achieve and the standards for certification. The availability of the module as the unit of learning (nominally 40 hours) opened up new possibilities for curriculum design and delivery.

The second change was the devolution to colleges for quality assurance including assessment. The qualifications body owned the qualifications specification and so national standards were preserved. Colleges, who had developed systems and processes to assure assessment methods met required standards, assessed and, subject to verification, awarded credit. These delegated powers opened up new possibilities for flexible delivery.

The change management processes related to Action Plan might be described as power-coercive. Courageous decisions were made that the existing curriculum would cease to exist at a particular point in time to be replaced by new modules. The pace was fierce – part of the change management process – with the whole non-advanced curriculum replaced in a couple of years.

These changes were also introduced for HN ‘units’. By the end of 80s, colleges had a unit-based, flexible curriculum with significant delegated powers. A significant degree of ownership of the curriculum had passed to colleges with the expectation that provision would meet local needs. Colleges were empowered to become the type of responsive institution to meet these new demands.

There was also in the sector, a cohort of managers who had been through significant change and who had led much of it. There was capacity (and appetite) within the sector for greater accountability, responsibility and autonomy. In other countries, particularly the American Community Colleges, and elsewhere in the UK colleges had become or were becoming autonomous. In the UK, central institutions had demonstrated the value of autonomous operation with appropriate mechanisms for accountability. Incorporation was an obvious next step.

 Enabling Incorporation

With the political will in place, the educational rationale sound (and proven in other contexts), processes were put in place for colleges to be removed from local authority control and become autonomous institutions. The break was to be clean and comprehensive – there were no qualifications to autonomy.

Colleges became accountable to their own Boards of Management. Board responsibilities included all matters related to the functioning of the organisation – strategic direction, finance, human resources, property, quality, curriculum,….. Core funding was to be provided from central government based on a transparent formula related to student activity with these arrangements phased in to allow colleges to adjust. (initial allocation was based on historic allocation from local authorities). Central control on curriculum provision (eg approval of HN provision) was removed.

Boards were to be made up of 16 members. Some were prescribed – Principal, Academic Staff member, Support Staff member and student. Not less than half the Board were to be experienced in “industrial, commercial or employment matters or the practice of any profession”. Limitations were placed on local authority influence; explicitly neither an elected nor an appointed member of a local authority could chair the board.

Support available to colleges was considerable and critical with SFEU (as was) playing a very significant role and well supported by government. Support took the form of understanding new responsibilities and new appointments in colleges provided the necessary specialist expertise – the balance of academic/support staff was to change dramatically. Specific support was made available to colleges where necessary and steps were taken to ensure there were no college failures.

An attempt was made to preserve national bargaining. However, given that staff costs represented much of a colleges’ expenditure, national mechanisms broke down to be replaced with local bargaining. There are occasional calls for its restoration.

As might be imagined, colleges exploited incorporation differently. All grew in terms of student numbers – some much faster than others. Each developed their own corporate identity and there were significant competitive pressures around. The quality of management and leadership improved in response to new opportunities and responsibilities and this has been a key aspect of current success.

National policy demands were addressed through funding mechanisms (grant-in-aid conditions, specific funding allocation, strategic development funds) and quality regimes. There is a high degree of awareness within the college community that addressing policy is not only a requirement of funding but also required in order to retain autonomy.

For all colleges, a high level of innovation became characteristic of their work. This was necessary given the competitive forces which around and the challenging issues being addressed. There were also internal forces driving innovation as staff became empowered to take forward their own ideas with minimum reference to external bureaucracies.


No-one doubts that the process was a successful reform of an increasingly important public service – it was the right thing to do. Apart for some calls for a return to national bargaining, there is no serious attempt to return to pre-Incorporation times. There remain tensions between national policy and local autonomy; however, these are to be anticipated. Generally, we have found a way by which national policy demands can be quickly implemented with local provision shaped to meet local demands.

The conditions (political, public service, educational) which led to incorporation of colleges remain and, indeed, have become more imperative. These are

  1. The pace of change is such to require responsive, agile institutions continually adapting to new circumstances;
  2. Innovation is best achieved within a dynamic, challenging environment where individuals are unencumbered by unnecessary, distant bureaucracy;
  3. Local solutions work best;
  4. National interests can be served well through enlightened funding and quality levers.




BELMAS Conference: Keynote abstract “New Organisations, New Leadership – Community Ownership of Schools”

I’ve been invited to give one of the Keynote addresses to this year’s BELMAS conference. Founded more than 30 years ago, BELMAS seeks to advance the practice, teaching and study of educational management, administration and leadership in the United Kingdom, and to contribute to international developments in these areas. The theme of the conference is “New Organisations, New Leadership”.

Here’s an abstract of what I’ll be saying.  I’m leaving it relatively broad at this time so as to give me some scope to include developments which will take place over the next six months.  The reality is that I rarely complete a presentation prior to the night before it’s due to take place.  This isn’t to do with laziness or lack of organisation but simply that my mind is usually working on the topic right up to the event.  If I submit a summary/PowerPoint too early I’ve found that it places unnecessary limits on what I want to say. 

Nevertheless, here’s the abstract:

“New Organisations, New Leadership – Community Ownership of Schools”

Throughout the world educational goverance is under intense scrutiny.  The common factor is a dissatisfaction with the centralised bureaucracy which characterises so many of our systems and stifles innovation, local control and diversity.

Allied to this exploration of the principles of governance is a recognition that the costs of a centralised bureaucracy must be reduced to reflect the financial reality which is impacting upon public services throughout the world.

In the course of his presentation Don Ledingham will reflect upon changes to school governance on a global scale and use this context as a backdrop for the changes taking place in Scotland.

The evolving model of “Community Ownership of Schools”  being developed in Scotland is in direct response to a singular challenge presented by the 2007 OECD Report on the Quality and Equity of Scottish Education.  A key finding of that report was that the Scottish system was essentially a “command and control” model with relatively little autonomy or accountability being transferred to schools.  This leads in turn to a lack of innovation or diversity between schools.  The outcome of this uniformity of provision is that Scottish education is being gradually overtaken by other countries in relation to educational attainment.

Community Ownership of Schools rests upon a governance model whereby a local community takes on responsibility for delivering an agreed set of outcomes for it’s local primary schools and associated secondary school.  A local Board of Governers will oversee the development of the educational process for children aged 3-18. The funding body – currently the Local Authority – will provide significant freedom for the local community to develop local solutions to meeting the agreed outcomes. 

In many ways this approach reflects a genetic link to a time when Scottish education was seen to be an international beacon for high quality education through the “Parish School” system.  Parish schools succeeded because they were so closely associated with their communities and accountability for success lay at the school’s doorstep – as opposed to being “handed over” to a faceless bureaucratic system.

A key feature of the presentation will be to explore how the development of educational policy and practice will have change over the next ten years, as the classic solution of governments using additional funding as the main lever for change will be out of reach for most countries. Countries who can enable, encourage and capitalise upon local innovation and improvement, within existing resources  will move well beyond those who have relied upon regular funding injections to maintain momentum.

Uniformity or diversity of schooling?


One of the key findings of the OECD report on Quality and Equity of Scottish Education was that our system does not promote innovation and that there is very little diversity of schooling in Scotland. They identified the cause of this rigidity as a lack of autonomy – and what I would describe as an acceptance by all of a “command and control” model of education.  This is captured in a paper from the OECD which described various educational models extant in the world where we seemed to fit within a bureaucratic system of education.

Yet this notion of diversity causes shivers down the back of many in Scottish education who have come to accept the doctrine that there must be “equality of opportunity” in all schools. This is often translated into what is termed an “entitlement model” of education, i.e. what is on offer in one school must be on offer in another.  Any divergence from this orthodoxy is immediately labelled a “postcode lottery”. Now that seems fine to me in relation to some fundamental rights such a health treatment such a cancer care – but not for something as subjective as to what constitutes a quality education.

It interests me that people will call out for equality of opportunity, common entitlement, uniformity, (rigidity) within one local authority – yet in the neighbouring authority there exists another similar system – set in stone – but with it’s own unique differences – albeit at the periphery.

Even a cursory reflection upon the OECD report leads one to conclude the need to promote greater innovation and diversity in our system and that the fundamental levers for change should be an integrated approach to Funding and Governance.

I would argue that any improvement in outcomes for children in Scotland will only come about through providing schools with greater autonomy – and at the same time linking this with greater accountability. The key point to be borne in mind here is that there is a risk that greater autonomy can result in greater inequality. This would certainly be the case if funding was simply handed over to to schools with no regard to how that funding is used to tackle inequalities. I reckon that accountability in Scottish education is primarily motivated by compliance, e.g “we will do it so as not to get slapped”, whereas accountability should really be seen as a formative process, which should shape what we set out to achieve. Such a shift to a formative form of accountability would have to link funding with the achievement of clearly stated outcomes and objectives, without dictating how these outcomes must be achieved – and certainly no reference to the input requirements.

It’s at this point that the question of uniformity or diversity really comes into its own. For if I you gave two schools a common set of outcomes – and then stripped away any obligations as to how these outcomes should be achieved (whilst ensuring that they complied with health and safety and legislative requirements) I’d bet that we would end up with remarkably different schools over a period of time. Of course, one would have to expect that the divergence between the two schools would not happen immediately, the ingrained cultures and expectations would take some to to break down. Yet over a few years we would begin to see the two schools creating their own solutions to similar problems – yet in a way which suited their own context and community.

“But what if a child has to move from one school to another – how will they manage?” – I thought I’d get that in now as it’s the common question which arises about this time anyone attempts to promote a diversity model. I’m afraid such a question just leaves me cold for I’ve seen far too many children from other countries successfully join schools where I’ve been a teacher or manager to see it as an obstacle – what matters is the quality of the school – not the uniformity of the curriculum or the structure of the school.

But how could schools operate without the support and direction of Local Authorities? Surely they don’t have the expertise or sophistication to make the myriad of judgements that are currently made on their behalf? Obviously we couldn’t give control of our schools to our local communities as they couldn’t be trusted in the way we can trust local authorities – could they? And how could schools possibly ensure that they maintained a high quality of education for every child – regardless of ability – surely that can only be achieved through a bureaucratic system which checked that the needs of disadvantaged children?

Federations of Schools

Schools in England have had the opportunity to join up as a local Federation of Schools since 2003 – see guidance document.

Glen Rikowski gives and excellent critique of the evolution of this approach and it would appear that it has become synonymous with the notion of businesses taking control of schools. Yet there are many aspects of the Federation of Schools model which might provide a template for our ideas for community ownership of schools – albeit in a very different direction of travel.