Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

February 9, 2011

Community control over schools – a step closer

The relationship between a school and its local community has long been a bone of contention. A recent poll of headteachers indicated an overwhelming preference (80%) to remain directly under the control of the local authority. But many feel that more accountability should lie within the community.  East Lothian Council have secured cross party support to allow groups of schools to dip their toes in the waters of parent power

Andrew Denholm

SCOTTISH parents will be given a direct say over how their school spends part of its budget under an innovative pilot project. East Lothian Council has secured cross-party support for a scheme under which parents from groups of neighbouring schools would discuss with headteachers how to spend up to 5% of their collective budgets.

The idea is to get families more engaged in the running of schools in their area and to foster a wider sense of responsibility for the education of all children across a community. That could mean parents from a secondary school deciding that a proportion of their budget would best be spent on improving the education of nursery age children. The scheme was revealed during an evidence session at the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, which is considering the effectiveness of the current system of local authority management of schools.

Don Ledingham, East Lothian’s executive director of education, told MSPs: “We have cross-party support to take forward the notion of identifying a proportion of every school’s funding and putting it in a pot, and for the decision to be taken collectively about how that money should be best spent.

“It is the notion of using funding as a lever for change and giving interested parties an opportunity to influence that. The proportion of funding we are looking at is between 2% and 5%. It is not huge, and we are also exploring the possibility that schools can withdraw, but they must engage in the discussions and parents must be part of that discussion as well.”

Mr Ledingham said the interest from parents had been strong and added: “This is something we think is very exciting and which has huge potential to help us address key community issues, such as early years.”

The idea was welcomed by Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, who was also giving evidence to the committee.

“Parents within the state system in Scotland do have that sense of the common good and they will strive for other kids – there is not the sense that they are only interested in their own,” she said. “That is a fabulous idea, but it doesn’t happen elsewhere and where we have an issue is that the variation around Scotland is just enormous.”

Earlier, the committee heard that the majority of headteachers in Scotland believe education should remain under council control.

Almost 80% of members of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland said they wanted local authorities to continue to run schools, although two-thirds wanted fewer council areas.