‘I will deliver Scottish education reform,’ vows Somerville

Scotland’s education secretary has said she is “determined to ensure that we have a reform process that delivers”, following concerns that “failed organizations” are dominating the boards expected to deliver radical change.

Professor Ken Muir’s report on the reform of Education Scotland and replacement of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), published in March, recommended establishing three new education agencies.

However, the Scottish government has been accused by Scottish Labor of “stuffing” the delivery boards that are supposed to be “reshaping Scotland’s educational infrastructure” with “the people who are leading the failed organizations”.

Labor education spokesperson Michael Marra has called on the government to review the membership of the boards immediately or risk “nothing more than the cosmetic rebrand the management is clearly working to achieve”.

Meanwhile, Professor Walter Humes – who was a member of the expert panel that supported Professor Muir – has said the make-up of the boards “looks like ‘insider dealing’ on a grand scale”, and that Ms Somerville had “been outmaneuvered by her own officials and the traditional educational establishment”.

However, speaking exclusively to Tess Scotland This week, Ms Somerville insisted: “I’m in charge of education reform in Scotland; I will deliver the change that is required.”

She said: “There’s one person that’s responsible for the reform of our agencies and that’s me, and I am absolutely determined to ensure that we have agencies that are performing their functions correctly.”

Ms Somerville said that teachers could “have faith” that the reform would result in more supportive agencies that were more “teacher facing”. She added: “I want to be able to deliver something that works for teachers right across the country.”

She said it was “important that we involve the agencies that are there at the moment” in the reform process and that the delivery boards also contained union representation and “critical friends”, to ensure “we are all being challenged…to ensure that we are making the absolute most out of this reform process”.

Ms Somerville added: “But everybody that is working on this – whether it is my officials or those that are working within the current agencies – can be in no doubt about the type of change I want to see and the level of change that I want. to see within the new agencies. That is exactly what will be delivered, and I will make the decisions on that to ensure that it happens.”

Replacement and reform of SQA and Education Scotland are being overseen by a strategic board – known as the Education Reform Program Board – and three delivery boards established “to lead, design and deliver” the reforms.

The strategic board is chaired by the Scottish government and 21 people sit on it; the majority are government officials. Membership also includes the chief executive of the SQA, Fiona Robertson, as well as the chief executive of Education Scotland, Gayle Gorman. Douglas Hutchison, the Glasgow City Council director of education and president of education directors’ body ADES, also sits on the board. Ken Muir is on the strategic board as an independent advisor, as is Professor Louise Hayward, who is leading an independent review of assessment and qualifications.

No practicing teachers or head teachers sit on the strategic board and the education unions and school leaders’ organizations are not represented.

The three delivery boards that sit under the strategic board are: the Inspectorate and Agency Delivery Boards (which are currently meeting together); the Qualifications Body Delivery Board; and the Policy and Legislation Delivery Board. EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley is a non-executive member of the Inspectorate and Agency Delivery Boards. There are 12 people who sit on that board; four of them are from Education Scotland and Education Scotland’s Gillian Hamilton chairs the board.

The Qualifications Body Delivery Board has 14 members and six of them are from SQA; it is chaired by Mike Baxter who is an SQA director.

Mr Baxter gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Children and Young People committee earlier this month, when Mr Marra raised his concerns about the make-up of the delivery boards – saying concerns had been expressed “we are looking at a rebrand rather than at a replacement or a substantive reform”.

The committee convener, Conservative MSP Sue Webber, said at the time: “I am concerned about how different in function the national awards body will be if the system is being reviewed by people in the existing organization. We need a seismic shift.”

Mr Baxter said the board was there to “come up with proposals” and its work would “include engagement…with a wide range of stakeholders”.

He added: “It is not simply about the SQA marking its own homework, as it has been characterized. It is important to say that.

The membership of the boards can be viewed in full here.

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