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Appeal plan 'too cuddly'

New proposals on placing requests attacked as hypocritical, reports Elizabeth Buie

The Scottish Executive has come under fire from two usually opposing sides for trying to make placing request procedures too "cuddly" and appealing to parents.

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, and Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, both attacked proposals announced today to reform the appeals system for placing requests and exclusions.

The executive said the consultation was a response to research that showed parents found the system intimidating and unfair. Options include abolishing the local authority majority on education appeals committees and removing councillors' right to chair them; alternative or new bodies to carry out the function; giving committee members formal training; holding more local hearings in informal circumstances; excluding council solicitors except when the parent is legally represented; and giving parents information leaflets.

Mr McGregor said: "Rarely have I seen a document more biased in favour of parents." The consultation seemed to be saying that "people don't like going to appeals hearings and it should be a friendlier, cuddlier operation", he added.

Mrs Gillespie said any attempt to make the system seem more parent-friendly was "hypocritical" as the problem was that there simply were no places in schools. "They can make it as cuddly as they like. If the school is full, it can't accommodate your child. People are disappointed because they've not been told the truth. The Government pretends parents have this choice, they don't."

The HAS believes the reforms are being proposed because of local government electoral changes next year, coupled with the likely impact of the Parental Involvement Act which could make it harder to recruit parent members from school boards.

The executive denied this, saying it was responding to a 2000 report from the Scottish Committee of the Council on Tribunals which was highly critical of the appeals format. Follow-up research showed that parents believed the hearings were biased and a "bleak and dispiriting experience".

There were 696 appeals against placing request and exclusion decisions last year, of which 401 were heard and 85 were successful.

Charles Gray, education spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, welcomed the the review. "Councils are invested with the authority to make such decisions," he said. "We will always want our procedures to be fair, transparent and fully informed."

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