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Parents charged to raise funds

PARENTS' groups are being charged up to pound;80 an evening for a hall let when they are trying to raise money for the school, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council said this week in response to Peter Peacock's call for a new era in home-school communication.

Leaders of the Scottish School Board Association and the SPTC have told the Education Minister to "get real" after he signalled changes in the way parents are involved in education during a visit to Brackens primary in Dundee.

Judith Gillespie, SPTC development manager, said that if local authorities and schools were serious about engaging parents, they should scrap the charges. The SPTC's latest survey shows that all its member groups raise money for schools, with one primary in the capital bringing in pound;12,000. "This is the biggest beef as we go around the country and it's the real benchmark authorities place on parental involvement. No authorities are squeaky clean on this," Mrs Gillespie said.

Too many barriers were placed in the way of parents, such as police checks in East Renfrewshire.

Alan Smith, SSBA president, said: "Where has the minister been? There has been a lot of parental involvement in schools and it's not as black as he says. There's a minority out there who have sat back and let the school get on with it but years ago parents were not welcome in schools. But the situation has moved on dramatically."

Mr Peacock, in picking up the Scottish Executive review of parental involvement that has been running for the past year, promised a new era of access and information - two key aspects parents raised in the national debate on education.

"But we also expect parents to play a much more active role in their children's education. Too many of us in Scotland have for too long expected to hand our children over to the education system and to get a finished product some years later," he said.

Mr Smith replied: "That's not the case."

Mr Peacock added: "I want to signal a new era for the role of parents in the education system. An era where communication between parents and schools is ongoing, not simply a case of the occasional parents' evening and school report. An era where schools value the input of parents and where parents involve themselves more in supporting learning."

Parents had to come in "from the fringes" to play a greater role in children's learning.

Mr Smith said that if ministers were serious they should reinstate the Parent Prompt materials that were used by the former Strathclyde Region to inform parents about the curriculum. "Parents need briefing notes on course content and want to know what is going on," he said.

Mrs Gillespie accused the Executive of failing to understand what motivated parents and what they wanted to see changed. "All these public announcements about parental involvement and responsibilities underestimate the support that goes on behind closed doors. Research shows that schools are only in contact with pupils for 15 per cent of the time," she said.

"Until the establishment figures in education start respecting parents for what they are, then they cannot expect parents to jump on their bandwagon.

They have the concept of parents as a monolithic block but parents are like drops in a river. The river is always there but the constituent parts are always changing."

Discipline and behaviour feature strongly in the latest survey of SPTC members. Parents in primaries said they were concerned about safety and the school environment, such as parking outside the school. In secondaries, parents were more engaged with the national agenda and qualifications.

"There is real evidence that they are focused on the here and now and what children are experiencing. That should be the starting point," Mrs Gillespie said.

But the survey also shows stronger interest in teaching standards than an earlier poll in 1999. Parents want to know what to do about poor teachers.

Mr Smith would like to see parents involved through local education committees and wants schools to have clear "open door" policies.

Discipline, homework policies and how to support children are key areas of interesst.

Mr Peacock also highlighted the revamped Parentzone website which contains key education information for parents. He will announce further plans to involve parents later in the year.

Leader, page 12

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