Scotland politics

Scottish Conservative push to fast-track schools reform

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The Scottish Conservatives have said they will "fast-track" plans to give schools greater responsibilities.

Education spokeswoman Liz Smith said her party would push for speedy reform at a promised summer education summit.

The Conservative move came as Scottish Labour highlighted the benefits of EU membership for apprenticeships and skills training.

The SNP, meanwhile, welcomed research suggesting it is leading Europe on gender equality in government.

Ms Smith said the Conservatives would use their new position as the largest opposition party in the Scottish parliament to back SNP reforms.

She said there were areas of agreement between the two parties, including the introduction of new school "clusters", a review of school governance and the handing of more responsibility to schools.

The Conservatives, she added, would push the government to go further by giving schools powers over budgets and recruitment, and allowing them to opt out of local authority control.

Ms Smith said: "There is now a clear parliamentary majority in favour of giving more power and control to school leaders. We will use our position as the lead opposition party at Holyrood to ensure that these new reforms are fast-tracked.

"These ideas include proposals for more school clusters. It won't be for everyone, but in many parts of Scotland it will help ensure we put great school leaders in charge from the first years of primary school to pupils sitting their Highers."

She added: "Our role will be to make sure that we really see power being driven down into school communities. If the SNP try to use these reforms simply to sweep up more power and control in Edinburgh, we will oppose."

EU campaign

Her comments coincided with Scottish Labour highlighting the extent of EU funding for apprenticeships and skills.

According to Labour research, more than £340m from the European Social Fund had supported this area of spending over the past decade.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, who is campaigning for the UK to remain a member of the European Union, said the funding showed how the EU benefitted young people.

She said: "The EU has delivered hundreds of millions of pounds of support to young people in Scotland in the last decade.

"That's funding we would lose if we voted to leave the EU, but this is about more than just lost money.

"Young people in the UK should not lose out on the opportunities that have been afforded to generations before them because we have turned our back on the world. Instead we should continue to co-operate with our friends and neighbours across Europe."

Gender balance

The SNP has, meanwhile, highlighted research which it said underlined its record in government on promoting women.

It said figures produced by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) showed that of all national government cabinets in the EU, only Sweden outperformed Scotland on female representation.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has, according to the party, also committed the government to bringing forward legislation promoting gender balance on public boards.

SNP MSP Gail Ross said: "I am immensely proud of the SNP's record in promoting gender equality - and these new figures are confirmation that we are leading the way in Europe, with only one national government having stronger female representation in its cabinet."