Liddell gets an early warning

31st July 1998 at 01:00
Helen Liddell, the new Education Minister, has been firmly told there is no support among parents for some of the contentious proposals she floated in opposition two years ago.

Mrs Liddell launched a series of policies aimed at strengthening the role of parents and school boards but a Scottish Parent Teacher Council analysis of responses to the recent Scottish Office consultation paper Parents as Partners dismisses any notion of reform.

It is believed the Scottish Office, under ministerial guidance from Brian Wilson, who has been transferred to the Trade and Industry Department south of the border, issued the document to extricate the Government from some of Mrs Liddell's more radical suggestions outlined in Labour's education manifesto, Every Child is Special: A Compact for Scotland's Future.

Mr Wilson insisted the consultation paper was no more than that. The reforms would not happen if people did not want them and he quietly dropped the suggestion that school commissions would replace boards.

The consultation asked for feedback on extending the membership of boards and their powers, and sought views on home-school contracts or compacts, parent advocates or brokers between home and school, and class contacts for parents. Parents rejected them all, according to the SPTC.

Judith Gillespie, the council's development manager, sampled 110 of the 1,140 responses in the Scottish Office library. She said: "In general there was no enthusiasm for expanding school board powers either within the school or by assuming powers currently exercised by the local authority. Boards were largely content with the consultative role which they currently have although a reasonable minority wanted it made clear that they had a right to be consulted on everything. "

Only a minority of primary schools in more affluent areas wanted extended powers.

Secondary school boards were not keen on new powers and respected the professionalism of teachers. "This may reflect the fact that running a primary school does not seem to be that difficult to an observer, whereas running a secondary school is a more obviously complicated business.

"Similarly, boards who were attracted to the idea of having a role over subject choice tended to be primary school boards with no experience in this matter, not secondary school boards who understand how the current system works," she says.

Mrs Gillespie states that there was "no enthusiasm" for legally binding home-school agreements, although a substantial minority supported the idea of informal statements which detail the school's expectations.

The survey showed that 48 per cent of respondents rejected home-school agreements while 28 per cent said they should be informal. Nine out of 10 said agreements were not enforceable. Some said they would only make a bad situation worse.

Parents also dismiss class contacts and parent advocates. "In general, respondents felt that the school board already filled that role, that a system of class contacts would be over-bureaucratic and would get in the way of parents approaching the school directly," the SPTC said.

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