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Hands off our time, say parents

David Henderson reports from the primary heads' conference in Glasgow

Parents want access to teachers, the relevant member of the promoted staff and to talk about how well their children are doing. They do not want to be asked about the school development plan or to help run the school.

In a combative address that riled many heads, Judith Gillespie, development manager at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said the education service had to be realistic about parents and understand their concerns.

Parents were often too concerned about their own jobs and family life. "The kind of time-span for picking up information about the education system is five minutes if you are lucky," Mrs Gillespie said.

Parents wanted relevant information that was quickly digested. They were sympathetic to teachers having decent pay but sceptical about their hours and conditions. Their view was that everyone worked hard these days.

Mrs Gillespie said many parents continued to receive a "rotten deal" from schools, citing one who had been summoned by the head to be challenged over her parent teacher association minutes.

"There is a failure to understand that parents are in schools as parallel people and do not slot in under the line management of the headteacher," she said.

PTAs had been instructed by heads on how to raise money and directed how they should spend it. The worst case was being asked to pay for a training session for a member of staff.

Some heads found it hard to accept that PTAs were voluntary. "If you are in any doubt about that then I can offer you the issue of public liability. If anything goes wrong, the liability is the PTA's. You cannot assert the 't'

in PTA. If you want a vibrant parents' interaction, you have to recognise that they come into school in that kind of free and separate way," Mrs Gillespie said.

But her view that secondary heads had more complicated jobs was greeted with howls of protest. "The reason is because of the timetabling, separate subjects, external exams, moving on youngsters from school to college and university or work and because they are adolescents and are more difficult to handle," Mrs Gillespie said.

"Rubbish," was the uniform reply.

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