Parents who just criticise

Heads highlight negative effects of new procedures. Karen Thornton reports

Parental grumbles against schools have risen as a result of new complaints procedures, secondary headteachers say. A culture of "parent power" is fuelling complaints and resulting in schools being "pilloried" when things go wrong.

But education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson this week said she wanted parents to get more involved in schools.

She was launching the Assembly government's new parenting action plan, designed to encourage parents and carers to get involved in planning services for children.

It reinforces the government's commitment to the development of community-focused schools providing a range of education and other services for pupils, parents and the local community.

But at the Secondary Heads Association Cymru's annual conference in Llandrindod Wells last week, school leaders were more concerned about unsupportive parents. Schools must draw up complaint procedures and publicise them, according to guidance issued last year.

Brian Lightman, head of St Cyres comprehensive, Vale of Glamorgan, said schools were being pilloried when things went wrong. He told the minister:

"The new complaints procedures have fuelled a culture of criticism of schools and a litany of formal complaints. These parents who are unsupportive of schools are taking up a lot of our time and they undermine your agenda.

"Anecdotally, local education authorities are reporting a big increase in the number of formal written complaints that traditionally might have been dealt with in a lower-key way."

Ms Davidson acknowledged that people were now quicker to complain to elected representatives, sometimes without first notifying the school.

If it was helpful, she said, she could write a letter setting out the usual process or even fund a seminar on good practice.

The parenting action plan promises more parenting courses, including the Incredible Years programme for children with behavioural and related problems run by Bangor university.

It also proposes a bilingual helpline for parents, and to revamp a little-used government website designed for parents. Eleven per cent of calls to a 24-hour helpline in England come from Welsh parents - a significantly high proportion given the relative size of Wales, says the report.

Meanwhile, the Parentsnet website ( needs further development "to ensure its suitability for all parents, including those who are less well-educated or who are not so well informed".

Ms Davidson said: "We all know that being a parent is a big job. Sometimes they need more support and encouragement and that is the main purpose of the parenting action plan.

"I am particularly committed to the plan's proposal to encourage greater parental involvement in schools. We want schools to be developed as bases for locally delivered family and child support, health services, youth services and adult education."

Gethin Lewis, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said it supported schools collaborating with all local authority services, but wanted parents to work with schools and teachers too.

He added: "Schools should be used as community assets. But they should not be subsidising it out of their budgets, and it shouldn't meant extra workload for heads and teachers."

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