Helpline is for advice, not sneaks

Is it a hotline or a helpline?

The Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett's announcement of a direct line to his department for parents was greeted by press stories about a "sneak's hotline". Outraged headteacher representatives claimed that they would be undermined by troublemakers criticising their schools' teaching methods and classroom organisation.

But the Department for Education and Employment is insisting the proposed line - an extension of the White Paper consultation line - is aimed at giving general advice for parents and involving them more in their children's education.

"This is designed to give advice to parents on a range of school and education issues," said a DFEE spokesman.

"It would guide them towards other agencies who might be able to answer their questions. This is not a new complaints procedure. It's perfectly reasonable for parents to talk to the Government and its standards and effectiveness unit about, for example, our literacy strategy.

The department's explanation was accepted by teachers' union leader Nigel de Gruchy who was scathing about the media hype over the story.

"The thought of Stephen Byers or David Blunkett at the other end of the line dealing with thousands of enquiries! I don't think it's practical for a hotline to be advising on the problems of 24,000 individual schools," said the NASUWT general secretary. "They can give general advice on how to deal with complaints and no one objects to that. We are all in favour of more information to parents."

But the helplinehotline idea has caught the imagination of some parents.

Heather Longley, whose six-year-old daughter Natasha is a pupil at a special measures primary school in Southampton, welcomed the hotline idea.

"It's wonderful, because if the school doesn't pay any attention then you can get on to the department," said Mrs Longley who queried the school's homework policy last year.

The White Paper consultation line 0645 123001 is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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