State funding for “independent” schools?

An interesting development. Today’s Herald carries an article on the Glasgow Steiner School seeking direct state funding, following the fire which effectively closed the school back in 2013.  (“Steiner school hit by blaze in landmark bid for state funding”, 20 June 2016)

As the article points out, this is the latest group to seek direct Scottish Government funding for their school, following in the well documented footsteps of St. Joseph’s Primary School in Milngavie.

The Scottish Government already have all of the powers they need to grant the Steiner School’s request.  Section 73 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 allows the Scottish Ministers, by regulation, to pay grants to the managers of any educational establishment, and to “any other persons” for providing education or educational services. Section 74(1) allow conditions to be imposed on such grant payments.  This is how Jordanhill School is funded.

No primary legislation would be required. It would be a politically huge step to take, no doubt. Especially in the case of the Steiner School which, as I understand it, runs a different curriculum (i.e. not Curriculum for Excellence).

From a legal perspective, there are two points to consider here.

The first is that both St. Joseph’s and the Glasgow Steiner School are making, essentially the same argument that St. Mary’s Episcopal Primary School made in the case of Dove v. Scottish Ministers back in 2001/02.

The argument is essentially this – the Scottish Ministers directly fund Jordanhill School as a mainstream “grant-aided” school; so why not us? Jordanhill is an anomoly within the system, and maybe some day it will be altered – but until then it can be explained away as a historical curiosity, unique circumstances etc.

Funding other schools directly definitely would open the floodgates, the “why not us?” case becoming more and more difficult to answer each time an exception is made. Maybe the Scottish Government are keen to have more autonomous grant-aided schools but, if so, it should surely be on the basis of a national policy and one which is accessible to all schools who might choose to opt in, not just those which the best PR skills.

From that point of view, and even if this were being done on a “pilot” basis, the proposals have very different implications.  Fund the Steiner school, and the Scottish Government is allowing parents at an independent school to depart from Curriculum for Excellence, and funding them to do so.  Fund St. Joseph’s in Milngavie, and what does that do to East Dunbartonshire Council’s primary school estate planning?

Secondly, in the background, the Scottish Government is still working through the implementation of the Doran Review recommendations – part of which may have a major implication for the seven special schools in Scotland which currently receive direct grant funding from Scottish Government.

Introducing new mechanisms for direct grant funding from Scottish Government in the middle of that process would be complicated to say the least.  It would be problematic to try and insist that any new system could only apply to mainstream schools.  And, if the Scottish Government were open to encouraging parent controlled schools which may take different approaches to education, then projects like the Stoa School in Edinburgh may well be very interested indeed.

While superficially attractive, moves to direct funding of schools by Scottish Government would create more problems than it solves.  Without major structural (and legislative) changes to the way in which education is managed and delivered in Scotland, it is basically a non-starter.

Photo of Rudolf Steiner, 1905 (public domain) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education#/media/File:Steiner_um_1905.jpg

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