THE EDUCATION Minister has been told that the Scottish Executive's flagship education Act is in danger of failing to meet expectations unless he acts to publicise it.
Children in Scotland wrote to the Minister this week suggesting "a major implementation programme", including training, to ensure that young people, parents, teachers and local authorities are fully aware of the new rights and provisions in the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act.
The agency has stolen a march by bringing out its own guide to the highly complex piece of legislation. The Act imposes new duties on schools and education authorities to listen to pupils, and strengthens rights for vulnerable groups such as children with caring responsibilities or who are excluded from school. It also creates opportunities for parents to have more of a say in the way education is delivered. This is in addition to the very considerable implications directly affecting schools and education authorities.
The Act is not yet fully implemented, contrary to popular assumption, and most of its provisions will be phased in over the next two years. But Children in Scotland believes Mr McConnell needs to act now and contrasts official inactivity with the way other legislation was handled.
Bronwen Cohen, chief executive of Children in Scotland, said: "Children, young people, teachers and parents as well as schools need to be aware of the new legal framework which offers children, young people and parents new opportunities to have a say on how education is developed.
"Our own guide will help in this but there is an obvious need for a wider implementation and training programme similar to that put in place for the implementation of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995."
Douglas Hamilton, the organisation's policy officer, said Scotland now led the rest of the UK in establishing these new educational rights for children. But there had to be an awaeness of them so the rights could be exercised.
Meanwhile, Mr McConnell has reassured children's groups that there would be no diminution in ministerial efforts to support children, despite the word being dropped from his official title. He added: "But I certainly do not believe that we will achieve this through our education policies alone. It will require action across the Executive, and all Cabinet ministers need to be ministers for children."
The Minister admitted in his address to a conference in Renfrew last Friday, organised by Barnardo's, that the Executive had to get better at implementing policies and that "professional barriers" must not be allowed to hinder improvements in children's services. He promised "less announcements and more action, less initiatives and more integration".
Mr McConnell suggested the way forward was through a "twin-track approach" which provided non-stigmatised universal services as well as targeted support such as early intervention for younger children and measures to reinforce school attendance for older pupils.
He also indicated that the change in Minister did not mean any change in emphasis on the importance of listening to children, particularly those who faced problems at points of transition such as leaving care. "Young people should be active participants, not passive recipients."
The conference highlighted continuing efforts to ease pupils' transitions, from nursery into primary and primary into secondary, which Barnardo's jointly support along with local authorities.
Mike Stein, joint director of the social work research and development unit at the University of York, told the conference that young people were disadvantaged at key transitional stages because services were "unacceptably variable". Children needed "personal advisers" to help at different stages of education, training, employment and adulthood in general, he suggested.