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Parents don't want to play politics, ministers warned

MINISTERS are wasting their time legislating for formal consultation with parents, Judith Gillespie, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council's development manager, told MSPs on Wednesday.

Parents, whose views were "utterly inconsistent", would only become involved in policy decisions if they felt they could have some effect. In 1987, there were around 8,000 responses to the school boards Bill but in the consultation on the current education Bill only 64 boards out of 2,500 bothered to reply.

"That is not an indicator of school boards but what you are asking of parents," Mrs Gillespie told the education, culture and sport committee.

But Ann Hill, chief executive of the Scottish School Board Association, defended ministers' position. Ten years ago, she could remember the "closed school gate".

"By putting school boards in legislation you are ensuring you get parental participation. If school boards are doing their job well, they will be working with PTAs to ensure the parental voice is heard," Mrs Hill said.

She questioned the commitment of local authorities to boards if legislation was not there to guard their interests.

However, Mrs Gillespie insisted that ministers were misguided and accused the Scottish Executive of being more concerned with managing the system than actually meeting the needs of parents and responding to their direct cncerns.

For most parents, their point of contact was their child and the parent teacher meeting, she said.

If ministers were serious about listening to parents they would have written into the Bill more time for teachers to have face-to-face contact with parents. Complicated and meaningless school reports and school transport were two other key parental concerns.

"The real issues of parents do not make it on to the agenda," she said.

Mrs Gillespie added: "We have had a running argument with the Scottish Office that they do not want to go beyond school boards. At official level, there has been an exclusion of the wider parental body.

"The more it's put into legislation, the more that exclusion will continue."

She favoured open-ended approaches that did not exclude the average parent, as formal school boards tended to. Only a narrow range of parents became involved with boards.

"A more informal system would not only be cheaper but more attractive to parents. PTAs involve more parents than boards," Mrs Gillespie said.

She argued that existing school board legislation was a barrier to participation because of the electoral process, which had proved "devastating" to those who failed to be elected.

"Elections are no guarantee of representativeness. Fewer than a fifth (of members) are elected," Mrs Gillespie said.

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