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Split on parent forums

Deep divisions have emerged over the Scottish Executive's proposed legislation to abolish school boards and replace them with more flexible parent forums.

The two main parent bodies - the Scottish School Board Association and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council - have submitted vehemently opposing views.

Meanwhile, the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, representing secondary heads, has expressed grave concerns about the draft Bill on improving parent involvement in schools. But the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, its primary counterpart, has given broad support to the proposals.

The SSBA's formal response to the consultation, which closed this week, criticises an "inefficient" and badly handled consultation process and the "ill-defined nature" of the draft Bill.

While school boards were generally in favour of some modernisation and saw areas where improvement could be made, there was an overwhelming feeling that these aims could be achieved within the framework of the existing Act.

"The assertion that school boards had not worked because 11 per cent of schools did not have one was a puzzle to parents who stated that a take-up rate of 89 per cent would be seen as a huge success in most other areas," the SSBA stated.

It added: "The vagueness of the Scottish Executive proposals was of serious concern to many parents. With its attempt at flexibility, the draft Bill in its present form will actually result in less parental representation.

"We do not know how appointments procedures will work. We don't know how a forum will regulate its business. We are unsure as to what information forums may or may not request from the education authority. In short, there is no clarification of parents' rights."

It offers guidance on election procedures for parent forums, should they be created, and calls for headteachers to be retained as an adviser to the forum.

The SPTC, in contrast, offers total support for a more flexible system of representation. However, it calls on authorities to give a clear lead on how to set up parent forums, with proposed formats and model constitutions, because of fears that "maverick groups of parents might set up competing forums".

Parents, however, should have the final say.

The council also calls for forums to be controlled by parents of children currently at the school. "We have heard considerable dissatisfaction from parents about how their boards are controlled by people who have no children at the school," it states.

"Some boards have come under the total control of co-optees and many parents do not know how to change the situation."

The most prominent co-optee is Caroline Vass, president of the SSBA, who chairs the board at Cockenzie primary in East Lothian.

The SPTC supports giving the headteacher a role in the parent forum but says that he or she should not be required to attend every meeting.

The HAS supports the SSBA's concern over lack of prescription in the Bill on who will sit on the forums. This, it believes, may lead to "disharmony and potential conflict without a clear mechanism for resolution of difficulties where they arise".

"For many schools, we see the loss of school boards as giving rise to the risk of the loss of the strongest current pattern of parental support," it states. "In particular, HAS finds it difficult to reconcile this with the laudable aim of outreach to currently disengaged parents."

The secondary heads also suggest that some local authorities may perceive the Bill as an improvement through presenting an "opportunity to disenfranchise parental rights in respect of senior staff appointments to schools".

The AHTS argues that the authority, rather than the headteacher, should have a right of attendance at parent forums. While under normal circumstances headteachers would be expected to perform this role, it would allow a nominated representative to attend in their place.

It also supports parent involvement at all stages of appointments of heads and depute heads.

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