One parents' body 'more convenient' for Holyrood
It would be "more convenient" for the Scottish Government to deal with just one parents' organisation, the minister for children and early years admitted at the 60th anniversary celebrations and annual conference of one of Scotland's two main parents' bodies.
Adam Ingram told the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) that the Government wanted to promote parents' role in education, which was why it announced last week another survey on the formation of a new national body.
The survey of parent councils about "the shape and character that a national body might take" was simply a means of facilitating discussion, the Government insisted. It planned to impose nothing.
However, the SPTC accused it of wasting money by commissioning another survey on the issue so soon after a previous one, carried out between October 2006 and May 2007, which cost over Pounds 22,000.
The Government asserted the landscape had changed. Parent councils had been going for a year and there was "growing interest" in a national parents' body, it said.
But Judith Gillespie, the SPTC's development officer, said parental participation at a national level was "incredibly difficult". She said: "Parents lead complicated lives and their involvement can't be set in government terms and official terms. It has to accommodate the parent who can give up an hour and the parent who can give more time. Parental participation is not a job."
The rival of the Edinburgh-based SPTC, the Scottish Parent Councils Association, based in Dumfries, took a different tack. It said it would be happy to make way for a national body, provided it was not led from "an Edinburgh-based coterie" and that all of Scotland was represented.
Mr Ingram told the SPTC annual conference, held at the Scottish Parliament: "Obviously, a national body would play a role in terms of working with government. It would be convenient to have one body to negotiate with or speak to. We are not dictating to you: we want to facilitate discussions and see what comes out."
The survey, being carried out by Carole Miller Research, will cost Pounds 15,000 to Pounds 20,000 and is due to be published in February.
Walter Humes, professor of education at the University of the West of Scotland, questioned whether four months was sufficient time, criticising governments on a wider front for opting to commission private consultancy firms rather than academic research groups. "I don't know about Carole Miller Research and can't comment on the quality of its work," he said, "but there is a tendency towards quick surveys, which rests uneasily with the policy of evidence-informed decision-making."
Mrs Gillespie told the conference that the relationship between schools and families had come a long way since a white line in the playground marked the point beyond which parents were not permitted to venture.
In order to develop its role further, Professor Humes suggested the SPTC should speak up for marginalised groups such as traveller children and looked-after children. This would give these young people a much-needed voice, he said, while helping to dispel accusations often levied at members of parents' organisations that they are interested only in their own children's education, not the education of all children.
The organisation would also have to brace itself for a future when its views might clash with those of children, he added.