Parent advice helpline to close after 52 years

19th October 2012 at 01:00
Line goes dead at Advisory Centre for Education

It was set up at a time when parents knew little about what went on inside the school gates, to help them make important choices about their children's education. Founded in 1960 and first run from a bicycle shop, the Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) provided a sympathetic ear for parents as well as expert advice.

Now, after 52 years of helping families, the ACE telephone advice lines have closed owing to government funding being cut.

Between 10,000 and 11,000 parents used the helpline every year when they had problems with school admissions, exclusion or special educational needs (SEN) tribunals. In total, up to 100,000 families each year contacted ACE on the telephone or via the organisation's website. Advisers were also based in local communities to help families from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds.

The service was set up by Michael Young, later Lord Young of Dartington (the father of free school pioneer Toby Young), and sociologist Brian Jackson, who both argued that schools and local education authorities were "too stand-offish about parents". They wanted to "create a self-aware body of educational consumers and to provide them with the independent information necessary to make better educational choices".

Membership grew from 3,000 in 1961 to 23,000 in 1970. For #163;1 per year, members could send in queries by post, and ACE's expert panel of education consultants would do their best to answer them.

Over the years ACE staff campaigned for the opening up of school records, better information for parents, the abolition of corporal punishment in schools and improvements to the education of children with SEN.

More recently the organisation campaigned to protect children's rights to SEN support and ran training for local authorities and teachers.

"The strength of ACE's work is that the organisation was able to offer specialist advice and support across a range of educational issues," said Christopher Robertson, lecturer in inclusive and special education at the University of Birmingham.

Over the past decade ACE received regular government funding and services were expanded. But this grant ended 18 months ago and further money could not be found.

A new company, ACE Education Advice and Training, will continue some of ACE's work using the service's website but without a helpline.

Sam Murray, former head of policy and information at ACE, who is now helping to set up the new company, said that parents had valued the one-to-one support she and her colleagues had given them.

"We tried to find alternative sources of funding, but this was more competitive than ever before and we couldn't find the money to continue the free telephone helpline," she said.

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