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Ministers tell parents that choice will be paramount

MINISTERS "will not act in any way that has the potential to reduce parental choice", the Scottish Executive says in its response to the consultation on the draft education Bill.

They have rejected calls by local authorities for a wider review of parental choice legislation that might even lead to scrapping it. The Bill will impose some restrictions on choice by allowing authorities to reserve space in schools so that families moving into catchment areas can find a place at the local school.

The Bill confirms the draft proposal that a placing request can be refused for entry to school if it would mean creating an additional class or employing an extra teacher at a later stage in the school. The legislation will clarify that this will apply only to primary schools.

Ministers believe the balance between parental choice and effective education authority management will then be about right, and that the policy intentions will be clear enough for the legislation not to be challenged in the courts.

The report on the consultation also says ministers have set their face against any imminent shake-up for school boards, although the requirement that boards help with each school's improvement agenda (page four) is intended to demonstrate ministers' conviction that boards are there to support schools not to challenge their management.

Boards will face some changes, however. Their right to challenge any local authority refusal to grant more delegated powers is to be removed, they will no longer be allowed to vary short leets suggested by the education authority employers, and by-elections will be scrapped unless parents want a contest to fill any casual vacancy.

The Executive will also be taking steps to build on its existig plans to encourage more parents to take an interest in their children's education and in schools. Ministers want to set up a national planning forum involving parent organisations and other interests to develop a strategy for parental involvement, although it remains to be seen whether the Scottish Parent Teacher Council will take part.

The position of parents is to be further shored up in the new requirement that education authorities' annual statement of local improvement objectives must show how they plan to involve parents.


* A duty on authorities to provide pre-school education, which will remain voluntary for parents. The issue of denominational pre-schooling will be left to councils.

* No change for funding additional pre-school periods for children who defer entry to primary school, which affects only 5 per cent of pre-school children.

* A review of devolved school management undertaken jointly by the Executive and directors of education and involving headteachers, after which guidance could be issued under section 12 of the new Bill.

* Strengthening of Gaelic-

medium education using the new statutory framework of national priorities and local objectives.

* The new ban on corporal punishment in independent schools and publicly funded pre-school centres will not be extended to independent pre-school providers which do not come under education law.

* End of opting out confirmed.

* Abolition of the statutory basis of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee will be enshrined in section 51 of the Bill. This will not affect existing SJNC settlements until they are superseded. There are no plans for amendments following the McCrone pay inquiry.

Leader, page 20

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