Peacock's third way for parents

22nd July 2005 at 01:00
he creation of a new national parents' organisation is not a done deal (page one). The Scottish Consumer Council and Peter Peacock are still sounding each other out on the proposals. Nevertheless, the Education Minister has offered real encouragement to the SCC by asking it to produce a more detailed policy paper before his draft Bill on parental involvement comes in front of the Scottish Parliament. That, in itself, is significant and the timing of his discussions with the SCC should be ringing warning bells for the two existing parents' organisations - the Scottish School Board Association and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

There is no doubt that the consultation over the draft Bill did not go as smoothly as the Scottish Executive had hoped. Mr Peacock has been left with two parent organisations in direct opposition to each other over his proposals - the SSBA against, the SPTC for. He may well have thought that the prospects of persuading the two bodies to work together in the creation of his new parent forums were, at best, slim. So a plague on both their houses. How tempting, then, to embrace the possibility of a third way - a new body to give voice to parents' concerns, but without the historical baggage of either the SSBA (born as a result of Tory legislation) or the SPTC (which has been the Executive's sternest critic over new child protection laws and disclosure regulations).

A survey in 2002 of parents of secondary children showed that only 9 per cent were involved in school boards, PTAs or other parent bodies - and most of them were middle-class professionals. Most parents' concerns are focused on their own children. Individual circumstances will dictate whether they favour a more flexible placing request system, more fast-tracking for bright pupils, more frequent national testing, or more vocational qualifications. If, as research by the Commissioner for Children and Young People shows (page six), only 14 per cent of pupils think that school councils make a difference, will their parents be persuaded that they need a national platform? Or should they have the chance to make it work?

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