Peanuts for parent champions

28th April 2006 at 01:00
Wanted: volunteers to tell parents why their child's school is failing.

Candidates for this "demanding role" must have appropriate experience, good communication and people skills but not be an employee of the school, or local authority that appoints them. They should also be prepared to work for little or no money.

This is the Government's job description for its new "parent champions".

Ministers want to ensure parents are fully informed and involved in future decisions when Ofsted fails a school, or a local authority considers intervening over poor performance.

And they say councils should appoint volunteers to do the job impartially.

But local authorities fear the long list of requirements could mean they struggle to find contenders. Councils are also concerned there is too little cash to pay for "choice advisers", the other new category of parental helpers which is part of the reforms.

Parent champions were mentioned briefly in the education white paper introducing the reforms. But new draft guidance gives more detail and tells councils to compile lists of suitable people.

The list of requirements, combined with a recommendation that only expenses or "small honorarium payments" be paid, has worried council representatives.

And Margaret Morrissey, from the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, warned: "I think I would know as much about this as any parent is going to and I would not feel confident doing this job.

"Many, many schools can't recruit governors and it will be even harder to get anybody prepared to do something which is not going to be very pleasant."

Chris Waterman, executive director of the Confederation of Education Service Managers, said: "The Department for Education and Skills says this is a demanding, specialised role.

"These parent champions need communication skills, people skills, background knowledge and they are going to do all this for a small payment? They could be very difficult to find. If this is a serious task, then the job needs to be recognised as serious."

Doubts are also surfacing about whether authorities will be able to recruit the networks of choice advisers the Government wants.

The posts outlined in the white paper are an important part of ministers'

plan to create more choice and diversity. It says "dedicated choice advisers" should be on hand to tell disadvantaged parents about their options when they apply for school places.

But although the education Bill includes a duty on councils to help parents choose the right school, there is no mention of choice advisers.

And with only pound;6 million a year to be shared between England's 150 local authorities, Mr Waterman believes some will struggle to appoint their "networks".

He calculated that if the funding was allocated according to the same weighting as similar government grants, then a London borough such as Camden would have only pound;16,000 to spend.

"This is another cadre of people who will need very productive skills," he said. "It is difficult to imagine how pound;6m a year will buy 150 networks of choice advisers."

A DfES spokesman said local authorities could use part of the pound;30m they have been allocated for failing schools to train parent champions. The annual pound;6m for choice advisers was sufficient as they would be required only when parents were making school choices during two to three months in the autumn.

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