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'Moaning shop' or forum?

Plans to replace school boards with more flexible parent forums may lead to the creation of "meaningless moaning shops", the Scottish School Board Association's vice-president has warned.

Curiously, the Scottish Executive press release on the matter carried an apparent endorsement of the proposals by Alan Smith, the association's president.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council described the draft Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Bill as "a good move" and said it would give parents the rights and powers to design their own committees.

Euan Robson, Deputy Education Minister, said on a visit to Lawmuir primary in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire, to launch the consultation on the Bill:

"Our research shows that parents who want to get more involved in their children's education are put off by the formality of the current systems."

Among the key proposals are that authorities will be able to modernise appointments systems for headteachers and deputy heads - currently a key function of parent members of school boards - but will remain under an obligation to show that the new parent forums still have a role.

Unlike school boards, forums will be flexible in the number of parents involved and will not require parents to be formally elected or co-opted.

Membership could be a single parent representing other parents in a small school, or every single parent involved in the school.

However, the SSBA in the form of its vice-president has warned of the danger that headteachers and school staff might no longer be represented alongside parents.

Caroline Vass said: "The partnership approach between school boards, schools and education authorities has served Scotland well. The SSBA fears that we may lose all that is good about this working partnership."

She added: "The broad spectrum of the functions of the new parent forums could also present problems. Do the proposals mean parents can now get involved in areas where there are failing departments or even failing teachers?"

The consultation also suggests that the Bill should designate parent forums as "agents" of the education authority for the purpose of their dealings with third parties, and also so that they could be covered by its insurance.

However, Judith Gillespie, development manager of the SPTC, which operates public liability insurance cover for all affiliated PTAs, warned that some authorities did not carry public liability insurance and others operated a very cautious approach to what fund-raising activities their insurance could cover.

Mrs Gillespie said: "Independence from local authorities may seem to be a technical point but it is essential for the flexibility of the new bodies."

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, said he would be consulting members on the lack of a guaranteed place for heads in the proposed forums. While the association welcomed parent involvement in the appointment of heads, there was concern that the Bill would give 32 authorities the freedom to adopt different systems.

Lindsay Roy, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, expressed concern about the vagueness of some of the wording. "Are the parent forums purely for parents? I think we know that in working together to make a difference you have to involve the various partners, particularly the parents, staff and youngsters from the school."

Mr Roy also questioned a section of the consultation which suggested that parent forums would require specific guidance when they wished to discuss "information of a personal nature relating to a named individual".

He commented: "I am not sure that a parent forum should be discussing information of this sort, whether it relates to a pupil or a member of the teaching staff."

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