Give us all a rest

15th April 2005 at 01:00
The irony of Judith Gillespie's letter piece in The TES Scotland a couple of weeks ago is that it was printed on April 1st.

But that's where the joke ends. Mrs Gillespie's vitriolic and unprovoked verbal assaults on school boards are becoming wearying.

She seems determined to undermine school boards at every opportunity, promulgating the idea of some sort of competition between PTAs and boards, and her assertion that school boards think of themselves as superior.

On this occasion she has chosen to comment on the views expressed at a conference at which she was not even present. If she had bothered to attend, she would have seen 200 delegates enjoying some very worthwhile debate. She would also have discovered that they were not all from school boards. They included PTA members, parents who belonged to neither association, teachers and local authority staff. The feedback from the day was overwhelmingly positive and very far removed from Mrs Gillespie's "depressing" scenario.

Mrs Gillespie continually puts herself forward as a spokesperson for parents but, in fact, she is increasingly seen as someone who is damaging to the cause of parental representation, with her constant misrepresentation of parents in the press. She is not a national spokesperson for parents. She is neither elected by parents nor mandated to speak for them. She is, quite simply, an employee of SPTC, a private company.

Let's just dispel the myths she attempted to foster. School board members are volunteer, unpaid, ordinary parents who give of their own time to represent the parents in their school. They are directly elected by the parents in some 2000 schools across Scotland.

This makes them accountable to parents and gives them a mandate to speak on their behalf, with no conflict of interest.

Despite Mrs Gillespie's stance on the draft parental involvement bill, early indications are that PTAs, as well as boards, would prefer to carry on with the status quo.

The reality is that most boards and PTAs co-exist quite happily. Both do excellent jobs for their schools. Neither is superior or inferior: they just fulfil different but equally valuable functions.

Mrs Gillespie reminds us that parents are perfectly capable of devising and running a parent body. Could this be the same person who, not three weeks ago at the secondary heads' conference, told an incredulous headteacher that, where you had parents deciding on anything, you would never get consensus? Happily, the headteacher knew better and cited school boards as the antithesis of that statement.

Abolition of school boards will lessen the impact parents will have on the running and good management of their children's schools.

If Mrs Gillespie had attended the SSBA conference, she would have heard Professor Walter Humes, one of our leading academics, warn parents; "Government does not like too many people asking hard policy questions and the intention in what is now proposed is to domesticate and control the kind of contribution that parents might make."

Mrs Gillespie should remember that we live in a democracy and that others aren't wrong simply because they disagree with her. Leading academics, head teachers, teachers, Local Authorities, church groups and politicians all agree that the rights and responsibilities of school boards should be enhanced - not abolished.

So, Mrs Gillespie, please give us all a rest from your rambling diatribes and private agenda. We've all got much more important material to be reading at the moment.

Caroline Vass


Scottish School Board Association

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