Parent bill squeezes through scrutiny

10th February 2006 at 00:00
The general principles of the bill to step up parents' involvement in education have met with the approval of the Scottish Parliament's education committee.

But it was majority rather than unanimous support, forced through by the committee's Liberal Democrat convener, Iain Smith, and its three Labour MSPs. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Tory member of the committee, voted against, while the SNP's Fiona Hyslop and Adam Ingram abstained.

The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Bill, which replaces school boards with a two-tier structure of parent councils and forums, will now start its progress through the full Parliament before the end of this month.

The committee's report accepted that arrangements had to be made more flexible to suit different local circumstances, instead of what were seen as the rigidities of the school board system.

Parent forums will be open to all parents of a school who will then be able to appoint a parent council. The Scottish Parent Teacher Council has welcomed this "minimum of prescription", while the Scottish School Board Association prefers "an agreed structure".

The education committee said that Scottish Executive guidance to parents would be a crucial factor in ensuring this flexibility was used. Several submissions to the committee called in effect for a halfway house between the current regulated system and what one local authority described as "a disparate range of structures and practices".

The Executive has already promised to produce materials to support parents in establishing the new organisations.

The committee also wants ministers to consider whether the composition of parent councils should be left up to parents rather than spelt out in the bill. It says that staff, pupils, headteachers and representatives from the community should be members.

The report said the committee was unable to offer any comment on the involvement of parents in the appointment of senior school staff, which is the subject of a separate consultation by the Executive (until February 28).

The committee regretted that this was too late to allow it to offer a view.

It hopes proposals from the Executive on the appointments process will be timed for later scrutiny by the committee.

Meanwhile school board leaders appear to be warming to the planned legislation. In its latest newsletter, the SSBA says that the abolition of boards "does not mean that parental partnership is dead".

It claims that "the enormous disapproval" of school boards towards the original legislative plans, which envisaged a parent forum only, had led to the proposal for a parent council, "which is the real successor to the board, with enhanced functions".

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