Labour endorses school boards

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Parents are to be asked if schools boards should have a greater say in running schools, with involvement in staffing and finance and an extension of their veto powers.

The Government's long-awaited discussion paper, issued yesterday (Thursday), makes it clear that school boards are here to stay, with parents remaining in the majority. Parents as Partners: Enhancing the Role of Parents in Scottish Education says ministers wish to emphasise the wider role of parents rather than the narrow one of school boards.

Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, has now effectively side-stepped Labour's election commitment to set up up more broadly based school commissions. The consultation document says this is "a matter of nomenclature and as such is a secondary issue".

Mr Wilson himself, in his introduction to the paper, prefers to accentuate the manifesto emphasis on the fact that "every parent must be a partner throughout the education process". He told The TES Scotland: "Our intention is to strengthen the contribution of parents, a process in which boards are just one part."

Boards are currently restricted to approving headteachers' per capita spending plans, taking part in the appointment of senior managers, controlling out-of-hours lets and raising issues with their education authority.

The Government suggests heads should seek the approval of boards for development plans, and involve them in monitoring the school's performance in meeting targets set out under the Scottish Office's standards-raising agenda.

The document also raises the possibility that boards might be given new financial powers. The previous government, bowing to suspicions of boards as agents of opting out, restricted the parental veto to approving spending on books and teaching materials. The paper suggests the school's entire devolved budget could come under board scrutiny. It acknowledges this "would significantly increase the board's role in the strategic management of the school".

The document sets out the arguments for and against board involvement in staffing, coming down on neither side, but rules out any role "in relation to the syllabus, the content of the curriculum and the breadth and depth of the curriculum".

It does, however, suggest that boards might be consulted on the range of subject choices in secondary schools where parents had "legitimate interests". Boards could also be given powers to approve policies on discipline, attendance, bullying, school uniform and homework. Any parent-school contracts would not be legally binding, the paper stresses.

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