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Consumer advice isn't wanted

LOCAL authorities and parents have challenged the Scottish Consumer Council's call for independent advice services on education. Nine councils declined to reply to a questionnaire while Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, remains "sceptical".

The SCC surveyed 70 organisations and found serious gaps in the advice available and a lack of support for agencies involved.

Deirdre Hutton, its chairman, said: "Consumers need access to good quality advice if they are to make informed decisions. This applies to education just as much as it does to any other aspect of our lives. Many barriers exist, such as low levels of awareness among consumers and a low priority given by schools and local authorities to independent advice."

National bodies report increasing demand for expert advice on education with bullying, special educational needs and exclusions among parents' list of concerns.

But Mrs Gillespie said she did not favour a consumerist view of education based on the right of complaint. "People find sources of advice if they are that desperate. At the end of the day the problems have to be resolved at school and local authority level. An individual grouping cannot resolve a problem. All they can do is advise parents about the steps they need to take."

Mrs Gillespie admitted there was a need for an education ombudsman if conflicts could not be resolved.

"Independent Education Advice Provision for Parents in Scotland" is published by the Scottish Consumer Council (0141 226 5261).

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