Ministers may back boards against PTAs

UNDER Scottish Executive plans to involve more parents in children's schooling, the Scottish School Board Association is set for a remarkable rehabilitation after falling seriously out of favour over its role in the Section 2A sex education row and in a separate case of alleged maladministration, subsequently disproved.

A wider role for school boards could signal the slow demise of parent teacher associations if, as expected, ministers decide to press ahead with new models of parent involvement.

Parents' reluctance to have anything to do with formal school organisations could be resolved by ending the divisions between school boards and parent teacher associations and allowing boards to become wider agencies for promoting parental involvement.

But school board legislation must first be slackened, ministers are being advised.

The SSBA itself may also have to be further transformed, with even a name change, if it wants to win the battle to represent parents.

Meanwhile its rival, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, could find itself undermined if more local authorities decide to include parents' voluntary activities in and around schools under their own insurance cover.

Many PTAs are members principally because of the SPTC's long-established and highly successful specialist insurance scheme.

Ministers are considering a report from Philip Banks, retired former chief inspector, which examines levels of support for boards around the local authorities and alternative models that may lead to more involvement from parents and better communication with the home.

Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister, launched the review last March at the SSBA's annual conference.

Mr Banks is believed to advise that the prospect of one national body to speak for parents would be much more likely if the strict legislative framework of boards was loosened, an argument that has been raised separately by the SSBA and the SPTC.

Over the past four years, ministers have toyed with the idea of a national parents' convention but so far failed to deliver.

The report advises ministers they may want to revisit the original school board legislation, which they failed to do significantly in the most recent education Act, and allow boards to become more inclusive agencies in each school. One parent body in each school would bring benefits, it is suggested.

Mr Banks also confirms patchy financial support for boards around the country.

Judith Gillespie, SPTC development manager, told secondary heads last November that board legislation was preventing the kind of partnership with parents that could raise attainment and solve difficult home-school problems. Legislation should be scrapped to end the divide between the statutory and voluntary wings of parent representation and allow a fresh approach to involvement, perhaps based on year groups, she said.

Ann Hill, the SSBA's chief executive, has stressed that most parents want to be involved in activities that help their own children and do not want to be organised as they are under the legislation.

They also want more information on practical aspects of the curriculum, she believes.

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Now that the self-governing status threat has been removed, ministers believe the SSBA can play a more constructive role.

Boards themselves have been tainted by formal structures and unpopular elections after being set up by the Conservatives as an opting-out ruse.

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