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Boards' appeal to be widened - but how?

The Executive has accepted the conclusion of the Banks report on school boards that they need to broaden their appeal to parents from a wider range of backgrounds.

But it has not yet declared how it plans to make this happen. The only response from Nicol Stephen, the Deputy Education Minister, was to say that many of the findings from the report would be fed into the national education debate. "We need to work hard to make sure that all parents feel able to become involved if they want to," he added.

The TESS revealed three weeks ago that the report, written by Philip Banks, former chief inspector of education, called for boards to be relaunched to improve parental participation. It criticised many of the complexities governing the operation of boards.

His report also highlighted misgivings by education authorities about how representative boards are, noting that all six councils which he investigated in detail had chosen to supplement boards with additional consultative machinery.

The Banks report also raised the possibility of a single body to represent parents, which could involve a merger between boards and parent teacher associations. The well-known tension between their national organisations, which would also be combined in such a move, was well illustrated by their responses to the report.

Ann Hill, chief executive of the Scottish School Board Association, welcomed the "excellent report". She backed the proposal for the school board movement to be relaunched and said pointedly that she looked forward to working with directors of education to ensure boards are given more support to become more representative.

But Judith Gillespie, development manager with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said that while the Banks report offered a good critique of school boards, it had not pointed the way forward and had not looked at the PTA dimension.

She also criticised Mr Banks for asking the wrong question. "He didn't take as his starting point: how are parents' interests best represented? His starting point is : how can parents be involved so they can serve the needs of the system to deliver the Government's objectives?"

Although the Executive will almost certainly act on many of Mr Banks's recommendations, Mr Stephen stressed that boards are "one line of communication between schools and parents".

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