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Parents join pro-code lobby

Neil Munro reports on the growing debate over how far teaching should be regulated.

PARENT representatives have joined the unions in urging the Scottish Executive not to scrap the regulations which govern the management and staffing of schools. They are opposed by the education authorities, which want repeal, and Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, who is keen to abolish the little-known Schools (Scotland) Code.

The code, introduced in 1956, includes a formula for the number of teachers to be employed, limits class sizes, prescribes promoted posts, prohibits primary teachers working in secondary schools and specifies qualifications for special needs teachers - even the terminology for particular year groups.

Many of these provisions have been overtaken by events, including legally binding agreements in the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee and new Government regulations limiting to 30 the number of pupils in P1-P3 classes.

The growth of the pre-school sector and the setting up of the General Teaching Council for Scotland have also left the code looking dated.

Mr Galbraith argues that the 1956 code "reflects the attitudes and structures of its day rather than our current approaches to school education". But it is not clear whether ministers oppose any regulatory framework or just this one.

Mr Galbraith says simply in his introduction to the consultation paper that such a framework must not "act as a strait-jacket, stifling discussion and innovation".

But the Scottish Parent Teacher Council states: "The fact that the code is out of date and does not include current standards is not an argument for abolishing the code; it is an argument for updating it." Flexibility can be buil in and the main advantage is that any departure from the regulations would have to carefully considered and involve a change to the code.

The Educational Institute of Scotland acknowledges that the code is outdated and needs revision but says some of the regulations are "the only statutory backstop which can be utilised to protect standards". The General Teaching Council for Scotland also takes "the strongly held view that there is a continuing need for a regulatory framework as a means of protecting standards".

The EIS and the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association believe all the various regulations governing schools should be brought together in a single new code. The SPTC and the Forum on Scottish Education suggest that the updated regulations should be put on the Scottish Executive website for ease of access and reference.

The local authorities share Mr Galbraith's view that the code introduces unnecessary inflexibility and rigidities into the management of schools. Angus sums up that view and supports repeal in its entirety. Any replacement set of regulations would be "wholly inappropriate". Clackmannan says the provisions are, "practically without exception, totally irrelevant".

The authorities' main argument centres on the need to do away with an excessively centralised approach. A number point out that the code implies that applying common standards will produce a good quality service. Most authorities say they prefer an improvement framework backed up by targets.

Judith Gillespie of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council observed: "Authorities, as managers, naturally want deregulation because regulations cost money and are inconvenient. But deregulation is what brought us BSE."

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