Head to Head

Review of Devolved School Management

A strand of the Government’s education governance agenda – which has morphed into the Empowering Schools agenda – was to look at ‘fair funding’ of schools.  

Part of this work – we believe there is a lot more work required to address the inconsistent funding of education across our small country – was to review the Devolved School Management (DSM) Guidelines.  These guidelines are designed to help Local Authorities make school funding decisions which fit with the overarching policy of empowering schools and with the Head Teachers’ Charter.  Of course, this is not the first time the DSM ‘rules’ have been reviewed.  Indeed, they have been reviewed and changed to some degree a number of times in the past fifteen years or so – so how is this different?

The first difference is that this review comes in an entirely new educational context.  While the empowering schools agenda is not at the extreme end of the school autonomy spectrum anticipated by some, make no mistake, it remains a significant shift both politically and, over time, on the ground.  

The second is that following previous reviews there was often disquiet from CoSLA, ADES or individual local authorities.  This time, there seems to be much more rounded support for the revised guidelines.  This guidance, jointly produced between Scottish Government and COSLA, is part of the current Education Reform Programme and replaces the 2012 DSM Guidelines. This is statutory guidance issued by Scottish Ministers under section 13 of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000. This guidance is also issued to Local Authorities in relation to their functions under Section 8[3] of the 2000 Act, in relation to delegation schemes.

Local Authorities are expected to use the new Guidelines, and the accompanying Framework, to update their Authority’s Devolved School Management Scheme as quickly as possible, with full implementation expected by April 2021.  

The revised guidelines can be seen in full at https://www.gov.scot/policies/...   This article aims to give you an insight into the main changes – though they may not be changes for everyone as current DSM schemes vary considerably – and what they might mean for you and your school.

The guidance is separated into two types of guidelines – things that are expectations and things that are recommended.  For instance, Local authorities are expected to publish their DSM schemes including any formula/criteria/methodology used to create staffing models or distribute other resource allocations (an openness that doesn’t exist everywhere at the moment) and it is recommended that they design a revised DSM scheme using a new common DSM framework (the point being to make it easier to compare and contrast schemes as well as for school leaders to move from one authority to another).  

It will be important for AHDS members to engage locally to encourage their authorities to bring forward schemes which do use this common framework.  This will assist local groups and AHDS nationally in highlighting differences in ways of working and in shining a light on the best practice from up and down Scotland.  The mechanisms for the first part of this should be accessible for local AHDS groups:

“It is expected that there will be meaningful consultation and engagement at all levels among the Local Authority, headteachers and all stakeholders.  It is expected that meetings take place to inform appropriate resource decisions including, for example: budget, staffing models and savings.  To facilitate meaningful consultation and collaborative decision making, it is expected that Local Authorities form appropriate mechanisms or forums for regular engagement and consultation with headteacher and wider stakeholders.  These should be formed in conjunction with headteachers and Local Authority education management.”

There are clear expectations not just about being consulted but also about the scope of that consultation:
“It is an expectation that headteacher have an input into areas affecting school resources, at a local level, area or schools cluster level.  This includes criteria used when determining how a forumla is devised, how the formula is applied to schools, methods of calculating and distributing budget, any associated savings, school staffing models and any other appropriate allocations of resources.”

These expectations are mirrored by expectations put on to Head Teachers to ensure consultation and empowerment at the school level.

“…it is expected that headteachers are empowered to design staffing structures to suit their school’s context, within the budget delegated to the school by the authority.”
“Headteachers are expected to play an active role in designing and reviewing the recruitment processes and staffing approaches, both for their own school/s and for the Local Authority.”
“It is expected that headteachers are consulted on the allocation of all staff groups to their schools, including support staff.  Staffing allocations of support staff should be supported by a clear transparent methodology for the distribution of staff to schools or clusters.”

Professional Support
“Empowered schools should be underpinned by professional high-quality teams with the appropriate capacity to support headteachers.  This may be in the form of business managers (or equivalents), finance, human resources and facilities teams.  It is expected that access to professional support is available to all headteachers, in all school establishments.”
Accounting matters
This will be one of the biggest changes for many of you as local authorities are encouraged to loosen controls and allow headteachers more freedom to vire money between budget headings and to carry forward funds over a number of years for planned expenditure:

On virement:
“Headteachers are expected to be…permitted to move budgets between devolved budget headings (referred to as budget virement) subject to local authority accounting principles, schemes of delegation and financial regulations.” Clearly the big caveat here is that virement will be subject to local rules – and less open than we had argued for – but the principle is there.  This, alongside the requirement to publish schemes and the exhortation to use an agreed format will make it much easier to highlight what is possible and permissible in other local authorities in an effort to extend freedom to vire budgets for all school leaders.
On carry forwards:
“Local authorities should give consideration to enabling schools and establishments to deposit funds to save budget underspends over a number of financial years for planned and agreed future spending requirements.”
Again, carry forwards will be within bounds set by the local authority but the expectation that carry forwards should be possible for one or more years (when agreed) is a principle that we will seek to extend in the interests of HT autonomy.  

Scheme review
The opportunity to influence DSM scheme design is not seen as a one-off before new schemes are implemented in 2021.  Of course, there should be consultation in the lead up to the implementation of new schemes, but it does not stop there.  The authors of the guidelines are clear that a full review should take place every three years as well as an annual internal review.  These will be excellent opportunities for local AHDS groups to highlight practice from elsewhere which might be usefully implemented in their home authority.

AHDS welcomes this update to the DSM guidance and hopes that members take the opportunity to engage in local consultation about revised schemes.  AHDS will aim to examine and share published DSM schemes when they are available – this will enable members to share good practice from around Scotland to encourage evolution and improvement of local DSM schemes.