National Parent Forum leader downs tools to talk education

29th October 2010 at 01:00
Gerry McTiernan wants parents to use their voices and influence the education system

On Wednesday night, Gerry McTiernan, the first chair of Scotland's National Parent Forum, made the 300-mile journey from his workplace in Huddersfield to Glasgow to take up the forum's hard-won seat on the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) management board yesterday morning.

A couple of other meetings were shoe-horned into his afternoon and then he was back on the motorway, heading south to be at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary this morning (Friday), where he is overseeing the construction of a satellite dialysis unit.

After a day on site, Mr McTiernan will once again head north for the National Parent Forum's first annual conference at Bishopbriggs Academy in East Dunbartonshire tomorrow.

"Committed and enthusiastic" are the words used to describe him by David Cameron, former director of children's services at Stirling Council, who chaired several meetings of the National Parent Forum before Mr McTiernan was appointed. He has nothing but praise for him.

While Mr McTiernan works in Huddersfield, his family remains based in East Dunbartonshire. Construction work had dried up north of the border, he explains, and he was presented with a stark choice: redundancy or working in England. He chose the latter and now finds himself in England from Monday to Friday and in Scotland at the weekends.

Why add to this punishing regime the chairmanship of the National Parent Forum?

Everybody finds it "entirely strange", he says, but he gets a lot of satisfaction out of giving something back. He has been involved in the parent council at his daughters' school - Lennoxtown Primary - since it was established and it "lit a spark" in him.

"The Parental Involvement Act has given parents a voice. It's important parents use that voice to influence the formation of the education system," he adds.

But in order to be involved, parents have to be kept informed, he says. One of the forum's priorities will be to improve communication.

"Curriculum for Excellence is a prime example. Some parents know everything, because they have been given a lot of information, and some know nothing, because their local authority is not as proactive. I would like to see more consistency."

Mr McTiernan is an enthusiastic supporter of Curriculum for Excellence. He has had different roles in the construction industry, from joiner to manager, and has retrained several times. Today, more than ever, children need to "learn to learn" and the new curriculum will give them that skill, he believes.

He is, however, acutely aware of the need to get the new system right. Both his children - Olivia, 10, and Eve, seven - will be going through the new regime.

"I don't sit on my hands at these meetings; I ask questions," he says.

Mr McTiernan likens the implementation of CfE to a building project. There needs to be a start and end date, with specific milestones hit. "If the milestones are not hit, it's up to the management board - HMIE and other partners - to put in support or apply pressure to bring it back in line," he says.

The National Parent Forum has had a difficult gestation. The first meeting descended into near chaos, with delegates struggling even to agree when the new body should meet (TESS, June 19, 2009). Even Mr McTiernan's appointment was far from straightforward.

The original chair was Stuart Clark. But when questions were raised about a potential conflict of interest - Mr Clark was also a lay inspector with HMIE - he resigned from both roles. In September, Mr McTiernan was elected chair.

According to Mr Cameron, Mr McTiernan has "conducted himself with a huge amount of integrity" and "good grace" throughout.

Teething problems came about because the National Parent Forum is made up of 30 people with different outlooks and pressures, says Mr McTiernan. The solution is to keep a national focus while supporting local clusters, he believes.

"I want to represent what parents are saying and you can't do that unless parents are talking to you," points out Mr McTiernan.

The challenge to engage with parents does not lie with the forum alone, argues Mr Cameron. A "significant cultural change is required" across education to move towards a genuine partnership with parents, he says.


Under the Parental Involvement Act 2006, parent councils replaced school boards in August 2007. This was followed by the creation of the National Parent Forum to give parents "a strong voice" at a national, as well as local level.

At first it was thought the forum would be formed by a merger of the Scottish Parent Councils Association, formerly the Scottish School Board Association, and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. However, the two organisations were unable to put their differences aside and the SPCA disbanded after funding dried up and membership fell.

The SPTC continues to represent parents alongside the newly-formed National Parent Forum.


Name: Gerry McTiernan

Age: 42

Born: Lennoxtown

Education: St Machan's Primary, Lennoxtown; St. Ninian's High, Kirkintilloch

Job: senior site manager for construction company Interserve

Family: wife, Gillian, and daughters, Olivia, 10, and Eve, seven.

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