Tories Unveil Education Shake-Up

20 February 2015, 06:18 | Updated: 20 February 2015, 06:20

Tory leader Ruth Davidson will today pledge to put "parent power'' at the heart of a shake-up of Scotland's schools and nurseries.

The Scottish Conservative leader will call for a new law to give parents the right to remove their child's school from local authority control in a bid to tackle the country's "stagnating'' education system.

She will also suggest a new childcare credit scheme should be brought in, allowing families to choose where and when they want to take up the free nursery care youngsters are already entitled to.

Ms Davidson will hail this as a "far-reaching reform that could help transform the lives of thousands of hard-pressed Scottish families''.

The Conservative MSP will tell the Scottish Conservative conference in Edinburgh that her proposals would give "more choice for parents'' and would put "more power in the hands of the people''.

Children aged three and four, and some vulnerable two-year-olds, are entitled to 600 hours of free nursery care a year but some parents complain they cannot get a place at their child's nursery or at a time which suits their family.

Parents from the Fair Funding For Our Kids campaign have already raised concerns with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Ms Davidson will outline her plans for a "simple and straightforward'' solution to the problem, saying while it is for the Government to guarantee the amount of free care youngsters can receive, parents should be able to choose who delivers it and when it is provided.

Parents could use the party's proposed childcare credit scheme at registered childminders as well as at pre-schools and nurseries in both the public and private sectors.

Ms Davidson will say: "If parents are entitled to a set number of nursery care hours, they should have the greatest choice possible over where to use them. And they don't have that now.

"As things stand, parents' choice is limited to council-run nurseries or providers that the council has already signed up.''

She will say this is "restrictive and hinders the ability of families to make the best choices for themselves''.

She will go on to outline her plans for a "a flexible childcare credit for parents to use to choose the right nursery care for their children''.

Ms Davidson will argue that as "today's families come in all different shapes and sizes'' and have varying needs, giving them "freedom to choose between the fullest range of childcare and nursery providers is the best way to reconcile those complicated circumstances and help strike a proper balance between work and family''.

Her proposals will "put parents - and not the government - in the driving seat when it comes to making the right choices for their children's future''.

She will also apply that principle to the education system and argue parents and local communities should have "far more say'' in running schools.

The First Minister has dismissed plans to free up schools and head teachers from local authority control as "ideological nonsense'', Ms Davidson will tell the conference.

But she will add: "There is only one person being ideological here, Nicola. Parties of left and right across the world have come to recognise the benefit of handing more power straight to head-teachers. It isn't ideological, it's plain common sense.

"People all around the world of no political persuasion have seen the value in allowing parents and communities far more say in the running of their local school.''

The Tory leader will highlight the case of of St Joseph's Primary in Milngavie, which has been earmarked for closure but where the parents want to take over and run it as a community school directly funded by the Scottish Government.

"What we need is to rebalance the system, giving more power to headteachers and a school community,'' Ms Davidson will insist.

"So, I'm calling for an overhaul of our education culture. And we back a new parent power law so that if they want to take their school out of local authority control, then they can do so.''