Fear not parent bodies

1st April 2005 at 01:00
Oh dear, what a depressing view of parents emerged from the Scottish School Board Association's annual conference (TESS, last week). It would seem that parents can't organise the proverbial celebration in a brewery and are certainly unfit to be left in charge of parent forums.

Without the strict controls of legislation and the guiding hand of the oh so superior school boards, parent forums will deteriorate into chaotic rabbles that do nothing but moan about schools and teachers.

Let us do a rewind and look at the truth. Parents have proved themselves perfectly capable in the past of setting up and organising parent bodies that function extremely well but which vary in format from school to school. I refer, of course, to PTAs which have been set up by parents without the help of legislation. There are a range of different models and indeed a range of different names - PTA, parent association, friends'

groups. Difference does not equate with chaos.

What is proposed in the draft Bill is perfectly ordered: parents at each school will determine the format of the new parent forum and, once this has been decided, it will be described in a constitution which will also lay down proper procedures for appointing the members, holding votes, consulting parents.

As for the scare story that, without legislative direction, the new parent-devised bodies will be so irresponsible that they will operate without agendas or minutes, this is utter rubbish. PTAs currently operate with agendas and minutes, even though there is no legislative requirement on them to do so. Indeed, some PTAs (aka ordinary parents) are so competent that they are able to handle several thousands of pounds of income and expenditure every year - a feat normally not matched by school boards.

Then we have had the scare story that, because it is not required by legislation, the new parent forums will run wild and have nothing to do with the headteacher. Quite clearly, the bodies will be set up to support the school, so the idea that parents will operate some kind of UDI is pretty far-fetched and not borne out by what happens with PTAs.

What we have at present in school boards is a highly prescribed system that allows variation only according to school roll. So a primary school with 600 pupils has exactly the same format of school board as a secondary school with 600 pupils. What is proposed is that these two schools might devise slightly different organisations - but only in an organised way.

Oh ye of little faith! The majority of parents are perfectly able to blow their noses without being told when and how by legislation; they are also perfectly capable of devising and running a parent body that is not totally determined by legislation.

However, let me give one note of comfort to all those on boards who are anxious at the thought of chaos. If their present boards are so brilliant, it will be up to parents to decide to continue with the present board and it will even be up to parents to name their new forum "school board" if they want to. How's that for a comfort blanket?

Judith Gillespie

Development manager

Scottish Parent Teacher Council

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