Noise levels rise over parent voice

Neil Munro Another war of words has broken out between consumer and parent organisations on how to give parents a stronger voice.

The Scottish Consumer Council is urging the Scottish Executive to develop a representative body which would "challenge the vested interests of education providers". But the Scottish Parent Teacher Council accuses the SCC of misunderstanding the way in which parents are currently represented.

The SCC issued its clarion call just as the Executive is putting the finishing touches to proposals for an overhaul of school board legislation and parent representation, which are expected to include plans for a single parent body. Ministers had hoped to issue these before Christmas but postponed them.

The consumer council claims that parents are losing out at present. Its own research on involvement in schools has shown consistent problems with lack of information, poor complaints systems and limited parent choice. The lack of a national representative body means these issues have not been treated seriously, the council states.

It says: "While the Scottish Executive's parental involvement reforms to date have focused on developing home-school partnerships, a strong focus is also needed on representation in the policy process." In a tilt at the impartiality of the existing bodies, the SCC points out that the SPTC and the Scottish School Board Association have "significant levels of teacher membership".

Judith Gillespie, development manager at the SPTC, countered that, while the SPTC has teacher members, "our focus has always been the parental dimension and we (and the SSBA) represent the parent's voice on a number of national policy committees."

Mrs Gillespie points out that there were two parent representatives on the Executive's curriculum review group - herself from the SPTC and Wilma Miller, the parent school board chair from Dumfries High.

"What the Scottish Consumer Council do not understand is that there are some 1.25 million parents with pupils in Scottish schools," she said.

"Inevitably, with such a large group, once you get beyond a common desire to see the best for their own child there are major differences in opinion about how this should be achieved.

"Should extra money be spent on school transport, special education needs, art, drama, PE or traditional subjects? Should there be more parental choice or should popular schools be able to limit their numbers? Should there be inclusion or separation?

"The only way that parents' views can be properly represented is through close involvement with schools - something that the Scottish Consumer Council does not have."

But the consumer council questions whether the existing bodies are representative of all parents, particularly those from disadvantaged areas.

Leader 22, scotland plus 2-3

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