Professor and adviser collide over Bill

Tes Editorial

One of the country's leading academics clashed with one of the Education Minister's chief advisers at the annual meeting over the proposed legislation on parents.

Walter Humes, professor of education at Aberdeen University, said that the creation of school boards in 1988 was a political act by the then Conservative administration, and their proposed abolition was also a political act.

Professor Humes commented: "If I were of a conspiratorial turn of mind, I might suggest that government - any government - does not like too many people asking hard policy questions, and that the intention in what is now proposed is to domesticate and control the kind of contribution that parents might make."

But Philip Rycroft, who heads the schools group at the Scottish Executive Education Department, denied any wish on the Scottish Executive's part to diminish the role of parents.

"Walter left you tantalisingly on the edge with a conspiracy theory, but conspiracy theories are usually that - theories," Mr Rycroft said. "In this one, there is no substance to it. It is in fact counter-intuitive to suggest that a minister who wants to increase parental involvement is going about that task by decreasing parental involvement."

Mr Rycroft described the legislation as part of the Executive's drive for excellence in schools and "a clear shift away from what was an overly prescriptive, centrally driven policy agenda".

He added: "We need to leave much more space, trust and freedom for schools and teachers to act - to back professional judgments more, to devolve more authority and initiative to local level."

Research had shown that the formality of the school board system put many parents off, and that was why the Bill was offering a more flexible approach which tried to give all parents a voice.

Professor Humes, however, suggested that, while the vagueness of the proposed parent forums might be defended on the grounds of moving away from a "one size fits all" approach, it might lead to "very patchy provision, with much depending on the efforts of a few enthusiasts".

He asked: "Where is the evidence that forums will actually lead to an increase in parental involvement? That is the hope, but is it based on anything more than aspiration?

"And is there not a danger that there will be devolution of responsibility to schools and local authorities but without a corresponding devolution of power?"

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