So many questions still to be answered

The question of who should serve on the committees is a thorny one, and something of a test for the Executive's social inclusion policy.

Should there be elections, as with school boards now, or should volunteers come forward, as in PTAs? If elections are held, should they be in-house or postal?

Many, like Judith Gillespie, development manager for the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, which represents parent-teacher associations, want four-year terms of office and co-opted members dropped.

Others think a parent from each year group would be a good idea.

If the bodies are to combine PTA and school-board roles, they will probably be bigger than school boards, but will that increase parents' involvement or will it be the "usual suspects" who come forward?

The Education Minister is keen to engage the 25 per cent of parents who never cross the school gates as part of the social inclusion agenda. But will the bodies affect that 25 per cent?

Some believe the new bodies will not increase inclusion, that they could even alienate parents who are now board members, and that the Executive should look at different ways of involving disengaged parents.

Crucial to the make-up of the bodies, and to maximising parental involvement, is the question of whether police checks will be required.

"It's a potential nightmare," said Colin Dalrymple, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland. "We need to take stock and consider what it is we are trying to do. At present it's becoming unsustainable.

Ms Gillespie said: "Current Executive policy seems to mean all volunteer parents have to be checked. If this carries over to the new parent bodies, then only those checked with the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) will be allowed on them. Others will be debarred. Or do we check all 1.25 million parents in Scotland? To involve all parents, we would have to do this. But not all will want to be checked, so we'll have sheep and goats, a form of parental apartheid.

"If some parents don't want to be SCRO-checked, others will start to talk about them. In a small community, you can imagine the effect this might have."

The majority view seems to be that some kind of disclosure process will be needed (especially if the new parent bodies are to be statutory), but that it has to be done sensitively and sensibly.

"It still needs to be thought through practically," said Roy Jobson, president of ADES and director of children's and family services in Edinburgh.

"It's an issue that needs to be managed. I have my doubts about checking every parent involved in the new bodies. I think it will be a matter of judgement for every individual school.

"I'd prefer to see it done locally. History dictates that this kind of judgement has traditionally been done at school level."

Then there's the time factor for parental involvement. Parents are not always in effective control of their own time. They live busy, complex lives and most tend only to become involved in school matters as they directly affect their own children.

Perhaps giving parents more information on their children's learning, through personal learning plans and pupil progress reports, will increase parental involvement. Perhaps giving them better access to schools will bring them through the gates in greater numbers, and more often. But whether any or all of this will lead to greater parental involvement at a representative level remains open to many questions.

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