Engineer ofthe parent partnership

1st March 1996 at 00:00
The "Clockwork Orange" in Glasgow, the port of Al Jubayl in Saudi Arabia, bridges over the M25. David Hutchison, the new president of the Scottish School Board Association, is ready at the drop of a microphone to deliver the parents' viewpoint but his handywork is equally evident elsewhere in concrete and steel.

A very "civil" engineer, Mr Hutchison has played his part in creating the new Glasgow. Not far from his office at Rendel, Palmer and Tritton, an international firm of consulting engineers, is a testament to his creativity: Partick station. When the city fathers refurbished the mini-metro, or "Clockwork Orange", it fell to the young Hutchison and colleagues to draw up the designs. Partick was his baby, down to the supervision of the construction, while he had "some influence" around the whole system.

After taking a first-class honours degree in civil engineering at Glasgow University, his career has taken him via the Middle East and London back to his home town of Kilmarnock. "Bridges are one of my passions, along with marine works," the 42-year-old father of two declares. "I see the cuts in roads programmes. People are wanting more for less and I can relate that to education. There are pressures on everyone to be more accountable for what they do, how they spend money and what they produce."

The SSBA now sides with those in local government who say the cuts have gone too far. "If local authorities are to be believed, all the fat has been taken out of the system and there is no more that can be accommodated without affecting the service. More money has to be made available from central government and more money can only come from increased taxes. People have to face up to that," the president maintains.

Mr Hutchison, whose children attend James Hamilton Academy, became involved "to help my own kids. I think every parent wants to see the best for their children and the more they know about what is happening, the more they can help. " But he is adamant that parental involvement is nowhere near the levels it should be.

"I think we are only starting to dig the excavations. We have not started to build the bridges. People say it has come a long way with the introduction of school boards, devolved management and school development planning and lay members on inspection teams but, in practice, there is only lip-service to parental involvement."

Mr Hutchison is a strong supporter of Strathclyde's parents' consultative group on the curriculum and with the dissolution of the region the SSBA is involved in talks on how to take that initiative forward nationally.

Contrary to some opinion, the association is not awash with Scottish Office money, which is diminishing by the year. The membership of 1,100 will soon have to rely on its own fund-raising, sales of publications and top-ups from other sponsors.

Mr Hutchison has taken over as president from Ann Hill, the SSBA's founder, who is now chief executive and runs the association's office in Dumfries. He acknowledges he will have to "develop a closer working relationship" with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. The rapport between the two bodies has been somewhat strained since the SPTC sued the SSBA over an article in its magazine. There is room for both organisations to speak for parents at school and national level, the president says.

The affable Mr Hutchison has a job to sell boards to parents - some 30 per cent of schools have yet to form one - and to raise the profile of supportive parental involvement. As a bridge-builder, he is well qualified for the task.

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