The impact of repealing legislation: the role of local authorities in education

The juxtaposition at the recent ADES conference of Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Scotland, and Steve Munby, Chief Executive of the English National College for School Leaders, provided an interesting perspective into the possibilities for the future of Scottish education.

Mr Russell was very careful not to give away anything about changes to the governance of schools post local elections scheduled for May 2012. However, the general consensus is that change is on the horizon and that it will see more devolution of power to schools and headteachers; a change to funding mechanisms to schools and the associated role for local authorities; and an associated change to the role of local authorities in setting policy.

No-one reckons that there will be wholesale changes along the lines that were experienced in 1995 when the most recent local government reorganisation took place. Primarily due to the fact that any externally driven change requires the government to pick up the tab for the change process, etc.

This is where a comparison between what has happened in England over the last 25 years or so can prove useful. I must emphasise that I do not think Scotland will follow the English model in terms of the final outcome, e.g Academies, Trust schools, etc, but rather that we might follow the change strategy.

For it seems to me that one of the main means adopted in England has actually depended more upon repealing legislation, as opposed to the starting point being the creation of new legislation. That’s not to say that new legislation won’t be necessary but that the starting point could be to consider which pillars of the existing system could be pulled away, which in themselves might lead to radical change.

This is certainly what happened in England in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which saw a range of powers for Local Authorities being removed and either passed down to schools and their governors, or passed upwards to the government. Over the next 23 years those twin directions of travel have been inexorable. This is most recently evidenced in the 2011 Education Act, which further repealed the duties of local authorities.

In that period the government have not had to legislate for change in the organisational structure in local authorities, but rather by changing the responsibilities of local authorities the government created an environment where the local authorities had to adapt themselves to their changing role.

So what might be the duties currently undertaken by Scottish local authorities which, if removed, might lead to the most significant change?

To my mind there are four duties outlined in the “Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000“, which, if removed, might result in dramatic change to the education system in Scotland.

The first of these duties relates to the role of the local authority in relation to school improvement. This would be a fundamental shift in practice and would transform at a stroke the role of the local authority.

Section 3

(2)An education authority shall endeavour to secure improvement in the quality of school education which is provided in the schools managed by them; and they shall exercise their functions in relation to such provision with a view to raising standards of education.

The second duty which could be removed might be in relation to the local authority’s role in determining educational objectives for schools in their area.

Section 5

Education authority’s annual statement of improvement objectives

(1)For the purposes of their duty under section 3(2) of this Act, an education authority, after consulting such bodies as appear to the authority to be representative of teachers and parents within their area and of persons, other than teachers, who are employed in schools within that area and after giving children, young persons and such other persons within that area as appear to the authority to have an interest in the matter an opportunity to make their views known, shall, by such date in 2001 as the Scottish Ministers may, after consulting the education authorities, determine (one date being so determined for all the authorities) and thereafter by that date annually, prepare and publish a statement setting objectives.

The third associated duty which could be removed might be in relation to school development planning, which would remove the obligation of the school to take account of the local authorities statement of educational objectives. (although this would be superfluous if section 5 (1) were removed.

Section 6
School development plans

(a)a development plan which takes account of the objectives in the authority’s annual statement of education improvement objectives published by that date in the year in question and sets objectives for the school;

Finally, the last duty which could be removed might be in relation to the delegation of budgets to schools. This presupposes that the delegation scheme is devised by the authority. However, if this were removed it could be replaced by a national scheme of delegation which is simply overseen by the authority.

Section 8

Delegation schemes

(1)An education authority shall have a scheme for delegating to the headteacher of a school—

(a)managed by them; and

(b)of a category of school which is stated in the scheme to be covered by the scheme,
management of that share of the authority’s budget for a financial year which is available for allocation to individual schools and is appropriated for the school; or management of part of that share.

    Of course, these are simply personal musings on the future of local governance of education and are not based in any inside knowledge of what will happen once the local elections have taken place. Nevertheless, it’s important for people in my position to have some view of how the things might change and how we could adapt if these were to come pass.

Efficiency savings

The concordat agreed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government sets out how funding and outcome agreements will operate over the next three years.

The document is worth reading on a number of counts but it’s the section relating to efficiency savings that perhaps sets out the greatest challenge for education.

The text reads as follows: 

For the period 2008-09 to 2010-11, the level of efficiency savings which all parts of the public sector will be expected to meet has been set at 2 per cent per annum. Under the partnership offer, local authorities will be allowed to retain all of these, to re-deploy against ongoing pressures and address local priorities. This represents special treatment for local government. All other parts of the public sector will have an element of their efficiency savings deducted at source.

When combined with the impact of removing ring-fenced funding streams, retaining efficiency savings will give authorities significant scope to re-deploy their resources to meet many of the funding pressures they will face over the next three years.

So at least 6% savings over a three year period.  At first glance it looks a reasonable deal for education but the reality is that there is no guarantee that efficiency savings made in education will remain there, although they may be spent elsewhere within the authority depending upon need.

We had a meeting of our Finance Advisory and Scrutiny Group on Friday and the challenges facing education in East Lothian will no doubt be replicated in the rest of Scotland to a greater or lesser extent.

The key role for all leaders in education is to ensure that we maintain our focus upon improving our service at a time when our budgets may be reducing – easier to say than to do – but an obligation nevertheless.

Local Outcome Agreements


We are about to enter a brave new world in relation to local governn ment funding with the introduction of Local Outcome Agreements (LOAs). An LOA changes the way in which money is released to Local Authorities by the Scottish Government and has the potential to radically shift the way in which we do our business.

Up to this point in time the focus has been on inputs to the system and linking money to particular national initiatives. For example in education we would receive money for developments such as Healthy Eating, or Study Support.  This money was “ring-fenced” i.e. it had to be spent in these areas and as long as it went to that budget heading the government were happy (within reason).

The idea behind Local Outcome Agreements is that funding is less tightly connected to particular initiatives leaving the local authority with more flexibility to meet local needs and circumstances. What will be specified will be the outcome that the authority agree to focus upon, e.g to raise the academic attainment for the lowest attaining 20% –  how this is achieved will be up the authority with less interference from national governement – or so the theory goes.

The following is essentially a worked example. An LOA includes three elements – Outcomes; Outputs and Baselines. The examples included:

outcomes such as ‘a reduction in the number of crimes committed by ..% from x to y
by 2003/04’;

outputs such as ‘deployment of .. neighbourhood wardens in A, B and C’ and

baseline ‘The number of crimes committed in 2006 was x in AA community. The
target is to reduce the number of crimes by 5% to x-5% in AA by 2007/08. Source:
police/local crime surveys’.

The report sets out the following advantages and disadvantages of Local Outcome Agreements:

• Local ownership – priorities are set by partners and communities to reflect local
issues within a broad national framework.
• The shift in policy focus to outcomes and impacts – the LOA format makes partners
think about impact rather than just delivery and challenges them to consider what
approach to delivery is the most appropriate.
• Flexibility – the emphasis on outcomes rather than outputs allows partners flexibility
in programme delivery – a positive feature, particularly from the standpoint of
community involvement as the services and projects are not pre-determined.
• Clarity – LOAs provide a clear statement of priorities and aims.
• Accountability – there is a transparency about LOA partners and what they aim to
achieve. This allows the LOA to act as a reference document for the public and other
• Partnership – the general view was that the process of drawing up a LOA had helped
to engage community planning partners.
• Evidence – emphasis on outcomes means that LOAs have the potential to provide inbuilt
monitoring and evaluation and thus provide an evidence base for future policy
• The challenge of programme design – designing a programme with appropriate
performance indicators, in consultation with local people, is challenging.
• Consultation issues – for some Pathfinders the level of community consultation
involved in LOAs was excessive while for others not enough time had been allowed.
• Time limited – despite the greater flexibility of payment through Revenue Support
Grant (RSG), LOAs are still constrained by the difficulties of a time limited programme e.g. the difficulty of attracting and retaining staff for a temporary initiative.
• Conflict – for a few Pathfinders the use of LOAs led to a deterioration of their
relationship with the Executive. Other Councils felt that the Executive had been
flexible and understanding.

Education perhaps faces the greatest challenge in this new system as we had a large number of ring-fenced funding streams whcih went directly to support educational services in the authority. These funds will no longer be protected and it will be up to local authorities to prioritise where their money is spent – which of course means that there would be no guarantee that what previously came to education will necessarily come to them in the future.

On the up side we can have more flexibility to focus on outcomes as opposed to having to “do” things a certain way.  It would seem logical that this model is cascaded out to schools , where the school development plan would form a a Local Outcome Agreement with the authority with schools being much more at liberty to decide how they achieve that outcome. Of course the challenge would remain to try to keep some consistency between schools, although I think I would be happy enough to see consistency between schools wiythin a particular cluster.

The concern for schools will be the ability to becnhmark between authorties will become nigh impossible as they each identify separate agreements with the government based on local needs.

We’ll be getting more information over the next few weeks and I will endeavour to update this log as means of trying to make sense of it for myself.

A brave new world indeed!


Determined to Succeed?

Determined to Succeed

Determined to Succeed is the Scottish Executive’s strategy for delivering enterprise in education. It aims to help Scotland’s young people develop self-confidence, self-reliance and ambition to achieve their goals – in work and in life.

I was delighted to learn that an extra £1 million of funding for enterprise education was announced today as a report on the first three years of the Executive’s Determined to Succeed programme showed that a record number of pupils are involved in enterprise learning.

Our own Determined to Succeed programme championed by Scott Lavery is having a significant impact upon the experience of young people in East Lothian – as even a cursory review of both of these links will show – so I’m confident we can put additional money to good use.

And so it was today that I had a conversation about whether or not the initiative is missing out on a key group – teachers.

The focus of the programme “aims to help Scotland’s young people develop self-confidence, self-reliance and ambition to achieve their goals – in work and in life.” Where it mentions teachers it descibes the development of enterprising approaches to learning and teaching.  But I wonder why we don’t explicitly say we want to create enterprising and entrepreneuriual teachers and educational leaders – which might even lead to a more enterprising Scottish educational system?

The Hunter Foundation Partnership are investing in a range of events aimed at supporting teacher and leader development, but the conversation that I had today asked if we, as educationalists, had something to learn about how how to run our business from entrepreneurs themselves – not just from them investing in our development?

I’ve explored this issue before on this log but it’s definitely something I’d like to follow up.

Is the grass always greener?


I had two conversations today where people made a case that other authorities were providing more resources for particular aspects of education than we do for the same aspects in East Lothian.

I must admit that this is probably one of the most challenging parts of the job as any kind of justification or explanation on my part always sounds like an excuse or bureaucratic “spin”. The reality is that some authorities will spend more on some parts of education than we do in East Lothian – just as we will spend more than they do on other aspects. 

The recently published  Local Authority Spending on Education for 2005-2006 gives some indication of where East Lothian sits in comparison with other authorities but even with such a publication it’s sometimes difficult to make comparisons – such are the different structures for delivering education.

I think this underpins why ‘transparency’ is one of the key principles we are trying to live up to in East Lothian – “what you see is what we get”.  There is still work to be done before we really get to the point where every aspect of funding is crystal clear.

Donald Henderson

8.45am meeting with Sheila McKendrick, Derek Haywood and Sheila Ainslie to further develop our cluster-based ideas for the restructuring of services. I hope to finish the paper this week. I had a useful chat with Alan Ross later in the morning about the same issue and I don't think we are a million miles away from each other on this one. I'd left my glasses at home and my wife, Gill, who was coming up to Edinburgh anyway dropped into the office. I showed her round and we managed a quick cup of coffee together. I think it's important for family to have some idea of where you work as so much of your time is spent there and at least now Gill can visualise where I am. John Muir House is an attractive environment and we are lucky to have such a pleasant place in which to work – it's certainly not the case in all council offices.

Visited Tom Brock, Chief Executive Officer at the
Scottish Seabird Centre at 11.00am. I'm to be the council's representative on the Board. The centre really is one of East Lothian's crown jewels and it would be a tragedy if it ever folded. I'm keen to explore ways we can establish a closer link with the centre and our schools. It would seem to me that there is some potential in the eco-school initiative linked to John Muir and an environmental focus in East Lothian. It set me to thinking about what would be the three key characteristics of East Lothian education, in the same way as we might ask a school to identify its characteristics. How about as a first step “connected to our environment” – other suggestions welcome.

Back to the office for a meeting with Donald Henderson, who is Head of Teaching Resources at the Scottish Executive. Donald and his team meet each educatyion department on an annual basis to reflect upon issues arinsing and the impact of executive strategies and policies. We had an interesting chat about the focus upon the lowest attaining 20% of students and what the executive reckoned was the underlying purpose of this focus. I don't think Donald and I disagreed on the purpose but we maybe used different language. I look forward to discussing this point further with Donald at a more suitable time.

I talked through our attainment action plan and they seemed interested in our on-going work in relation to 360 degree evaluation; talent identification; leadership coaching; student evaluation of learning and the exc-el initiative. As I've stated earlier in my weblog it is our hope that we can underatke some research to explore possible relationships between high student evaluation scores and high levels of attainment.

Finished the day with a useful meeting with Ruth Munro to explore the new six point HMIe evaluation scales and what it means for inspections. Home for 6.30pm. As usual about 60-90 minutes work to be completed at the kitchen table. I usually sit down about 9.15 having had a meal with the family, watched some telly and over the past few weeks taken some exercise in our garage where we have a running and rowing machine. I have to admit to being really out of condition but I'm enjoying getting back into some regular exercise.

Time for bed.