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Labour urged to think again

David Henderson on the SSBA's condemnation of party plans to scrap school boards.

Labour's plans to scrap school boards and replace them with school commissions have been roundly condemned by the Scottish School Board Association which "implores" the party to reconsider. The association is equally critical of proposals to introduce parent advocates in each school.

Ann Hill, SSBA chief executive, said Labour was starting from the assumption that boards did not work, but 70 per cent of schools had them and they were gaining in strength. She told The TES Scotland this week: "Boards were introduced by Michael Forsyth and it seems that Labour does not want to be seen to support his policies, so it is changing the name.

"One of my biggest worries is that by adding other people, as Labour proposes, you are taking away the majority from parents. We should leave the partnership where it is and the focus where it is."

Mrs Hill, in a letter to Helen Liddell, the party's education spokeswoman in Scotland, says: "It is recognised by SSBA that the full potential of school boards has yet to be realised and there is much hard work to be done. SSBA implores the Scottish Labour party not to dismiss or lose the great momentum which already exists in school boards, but rather builds on the vast amount of good work being done and, by all means, review how this could be improved and strengthened."

She argues that the party's plans to widen the membership are "unnecessary" since boards already invited specialists such as social workers and educational psychologists when their expertise was required.

Mrs Hill is further alarmed at plans for parent advocates to act as liaison between home and school and mediators. She said: "An advocate would seem to have more power than a school board or a parent would want. This would give power to one individual to take over and I would be reluctant to support this. I would be reluctant as a parent to know that one parent knows everyone else's business, that's the headteacher's responsibility."

School boards already fulfilled the role of advocate for the parents, Mrs Hill suggested. Labour's proposal needed "careful thinking and careful debate".

The association, however, is more supportive of other aspects of the policy review set out in the party's document Every child is special: a compact for Scotland's future, some of whose proposals have been attacked by the teacher unions (TESS, April 12).

These include ones which the school board representatives applaud, such as the notion of a "compact" with pupils, teacher appraisal and removal of unsatisfactory teachers. But the SSBA remains sceptical about how Labour would fund all its plans and how many would be implemented before a Scottish Parliament.

Despite the Educational Institute of Scotland's criticisms of the implications of the policy review for teachers, Labour has the backing of the union in its opposition to school boards.

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Education (Scotland) Bill was told recently that the EIS remained "sceptical" over the extent boards have become part of the fabric of Scottish education. Over large parts of the country, "the existence of boards is at best patchy", it declared.

Mrs Hill, whose association launched initiatives this week on school travel and on drugs (see page two), expressed anxiety about the effects of public spending cuts on the funding of school boards. "My big concern is that boards will not be able to function because their budgets are being cut by half.

"There may not be enough to pay clerks, and boards could fall by the wayside. Some boards may not be getting enough to carry out their legislative requirements," Mrs Hill suggested.

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