'Axe boards' call backed
Fraser Sanderson, who is this year's president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity. But his views will have added significance since Dumfries and Galloway, where he is education director, was the test bed for piloting boards before the legislation was introduced. His council also provides accommodation for the Scottish School Board Association.
Surprisingly Alan Smith, the SSBA president, said initially he "wholeheartedly agreed" with Mr Sanderson, but later amended this to say the association's policy is to press for changes in the legislation, such as the complex electoral arrangements which are widely believed to discourage wider parental participation.
Mr Sanderson, who was speaking at last weekend's SSBA conference in Glasgow, said the school board movement had to acknowledge there was a recruitment problem. "There are large groups who feel excluded from boards," he said. "There is also still a lingering suspicion of boards stemming from their origins at the time of the opting out policy and that is reflected in the varying support for boards in some parts of the country."
The ADES chief added: "Above all, boards have never been able to get involved in the higher agenda of improving pupils' education."
Referring to the possibility raised in the Banks report on the future of school boards that they might merge with parent teacher associations, Mr Sanderson said what is needed is "something between the two".
He continued: "PTAs are seen mainly as fund-raising organisations and many parents don't want to be associated just with fund-raising. Boards, on the other hand, are seen as the official voice of parents and they see all the official papers, but parents don't want that level of involvement."
Mr Sanderson said he would like to see "the whole legislative framework removed altogether". Local authorities should then be empowered to set up whatever structures for consulting and involving parents best suit their circumstances. The Banks report noted that many authorities had already set up separate consultative machinery with parents because they are uncertain about how representative boards are of parental opinion.
"Parents do want to be involved in the education of their own child and schools want to involve parents," Mr Sanderson suggested. "If the structures get in the way, then the structures should be removed. What we have at present is school boards and PTAs rather perfunctorily and desultorily going through the motions."
Mr Sanderson's alternative vision would group together parents from secondary schools and their associated primaries without any legislative encumbrance, reinforced by special sub-groups to look at particular issues such as bullying, special needs or teaching and learning. Parent co-ordinators could also be appointed to each of the school groups.
At the conference, Cathy Jamieson, the Education Minister, announced she would be setting up "a wide, consultative and inclusive review" following the Banks report, centring particularly on how to dismantle the barriers to wider parental involvement in schools.