All the fun of the board game;School Management;The Sweeney

19th February 1999 at 00:00
When school boards were established under the Conservative government, they were seen as a way to prise control of education from Labour-controlled councils. Opting-out would be the main weapon and schools would flock to take advantage of the subtle bribe dangled before them. School boards would be the other half of the double-whammy, which would leave the municipalities reeling.

Opting-out did wonders for the Episcopalians of Dunblane, but otherwise it was a damp squib. Dornoch Academy is almost back in harness and elsewhere opting-out simply did not happen, as the good sense of Scottish parents prevailed. I seem to remember that one chap was given a job promoting and supporting opted-out schools. Presumably he is now able to spend more time with his family.

The position south of the border is less clear-cut. Education Minister David Blunkett has declared that councils have no "God-given right" to run schools. Private companies such as Nord Anglia and the Capita Group are queuing up to provide an alternative to local authority control. While the official line is that opting-out in Scotland is dead, it is interesting to speculate whether widespread privatisation of services in Scottish education could become a reality.

If Holy Rood is typical, the story of school boards is more positive. There was no difficulty in establishing a board, and it has brought to the fore individuals of high calibre. Mike Sivell was chair of the board when I was appointed headteacher five years ago. Within days he had written to me, setting out his views on the agenda for the future. Mike had spent his professional life drafting legislation in a senior civil service post. He had a hesitant, diffident manner but an incisive mind and a deceptive politeness which disguised gritty determination and tenacity. Sadly, he died before his tenure of office had run its course, but the board knew its responsibilities as a result of his meticulous example.

Jackie Brown, a pharmacist and mother of four boys, took over the reins. School boards need a tight focus, because they have little time to carry out their responsibilities. They can only cope with a limited agenda at any given moment. Jackie's crusade became the refurbishment of the science block, and this was discussed at every single meeting over a two-year period.

The board developed a constructive partnership with the education authority, and the officers involved became known to it as conscientious individuals working within tight constraints. The board sent a delegation to the education committee, and gradually the refurbished building took shape. The teachers and pupils who benefit from these facilities today owe a debt of gratitude to a school board which would not let go.

The present incumbent of the chair, Frank Quinn, has two daughters at the school. He has a courteous but persuasive manner, and his soft Irish brogue casts a reassuring spell, soothing fevered brows. Frank is meticulous in his attention to detail, and meets me before meetings to check that we are up to speed. He has rapidly become familiar with the management issues confronting the school. His professional background as a hospital manager gives him particular interest in special needs, and he wants Holy Rood to be, in every sense, an inclusive school.

The other parent members have also played a pivotal role. Gordon Hunter brings his legal expertise to bear, while Jay Aubeeluck offers the perspective of a professional carer.

Staff representation has never been difficult to find, and often parent members are keen todiscover the teacher's view of any situation. Co-opted members, including church representatives, give generously of their time to provide a broader view.

Last year's Government document Parents as Partners floated the notion of a vastly extended role for school boards. The Government may be perplexed to discover that parents did not welcome these additional responsibilities. However, they can rest assured that at Holy Rood, to represent the views of parents, we have excellent people on board.

Patrick Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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