There is always bound to be a tension between legislation and laissez-faire, particularly where encouragement for the latter is embedded in the former.
So it is with the Scottish Executive's parental involvement bill, published last week. Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, wants the best of both worlds. He prefers schools to be left alone to involve parents as they see fit, while also putting in place new legislative requirements to make sure they do so - and, to be fair, imposing new duties on himself and his successors to promote parent involvement with schools, in ways yet to be revealed.
The difficulties of squaring this circle are reflected in the divided views of the two main bodies, the Scottish School Board Association and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. The former believes there should be tougher powers in the bill such as requiring local authorities to involve parents. The latter expresses strong support for the principles of the bill such as giving each school the freedom to design its own representational system for parents.
In effect, what the bill is attempting to do is to signal that a representational system connecting parents to the management of a school is no longer enough and that genuine involvement of parents in the teaching and learning process must be the next step. Considering the Mori poll finding that 69 per cent of parents have not been involved in any activity at their child's school, even of the present limited variety, that is a demonstrably tall order. Whether such a degree of involvement is even desirable, or fully realisable, will also be hotly contested.
Parent involvement will always be variable, because parents represent the full spectrum of public attitudes. If they fail to engage in their new-found freedoms, what then? School boards anyone?