Heads doubt that parents will flood in

Parents, especially those whose children are at secondary school, are unlikely to rush through the doors once the parental involvement bill becomes law, headteachers have warned MSPs.

The Scottish Executive's proposals, which include abandoning school boards, are intended to make it easier for schools to involve parents, but both primary and secondary heads told the Scottish Parliament's education committee not to expect any great upsurge in interest.

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said the evidence indicated that parents in secondary had no marked enthusiasm to become involved, other than those who sought to be representatives of the parent body and who might themselves be unrepresentative of parents.

"My concern is that we are looking at a market that might not exist and at the same time we are looking at losing a group of parents who have been supportive of the school. I would be happy to admit in future I have got it wrong but I have a concern that we are going to lose something and gain nothing," Mr McGregor said.

Gordon Smith, president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, said he was in a unique position, as head of the direct government funded Jordanhill primary in Glasgow, of being run by a board of parents, who ran the attached secondary as well. Even there, the board consisted largely of primary parents and there had been no elections for three years.

Mr Smith said that parents did not want to run schools but did want to know what was happening and to feel a part of the school community. "In most primary schools in Scotland there is a strong parental involvement philosophy and ethos and it's natural for parents to walk in the door.

There is a need for engagement with primary schools. Secondary schools are just different bodies."

Mr McGregor said scale was a factor. "You are looking at Tesco as opposed to the corner shop in terms of the relationships that develop. It's the scale that is totally different in the secondary school where you have a much bigger organisation.

"The other human factor is that primary children quite like their parents to be involved in the school whereas children in secondary would rather die than have their parents up to school even for the best of reasons."

MSPs were assured by the HAS that any appeal from parents over unresolved problems could normally be dealt with through existing channels. The Scottish Executive wants a last-resort appeal to HMIE but this is opposed by most interest groups, including the Educational Institute of Scotland.

Mr McGregor told MSPs that, while heads are relaxed about the implications,"HMIE is not equipped to become the equivalent of an educational Acas".

Lindsay Roy, head of Inverkeithing High, Fife, and immediate past HAS president, called for the new parent councils to include teacher representation. Staff could bring practical insights into issues being discussed, Mr Roy said.

Heads also oppose any moves to appoint heads and deputes to the local authority and not to a specific school.

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