Protest at right to call in HMIE

16th December 2005 at 00:00
Ministers are under pressure to drop plans to allow parents to call in inspectors to probe disputes in schools.

Ewan Aitken, the local authorities' education convener, told MSPs investigating the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Bill that any moves to use HMIE to resolve disputes between parents and schools was "disproportionate to any perceived benefit".

Inspectors were not arbiters, Mr Aitken said. It was not their job to look into possibly "frivolous and vexatious complaints".

He added: "They could end up inspecting their own decision."

Mr Aitken was supported by Alan Blackie, representing the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, and parent leaders from the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and the Scottish School Board Association.

The Scottish Executive was accused of adding the measure at the last minute, with no mandate from parents.

Mr Blackie, director in East Lothian, said that such powers might cut across the role of the local authority ombudsman and possibly clash with other legislation.

Judith Gillespie, SPTC development manager, said she preferred the kind of local conciliation service pioneered in Edinburgh. As the SPTC's written evidence states: "In the few cases where parents have been pleased to see an HMIE visit following a breakdown in relations with the school, the parents have often been disappointed when HMIE gave the school a good report."

Caroline Vass, SSBA president, said: "Parents do not want to complain. They want to discuss and work in partnership. Is this a pacification for parents?"

The SSBA remains unhappy at what it believes is the unnecessary removal of boards and parents' formal role within them. It is pressing for more prescription in the new legislation to set out precise rights for parents and duties on local authorities. "The bill itself will not directly lead to an improvement in parental involvement," Mrs Vass said.

The SPTC and local authorities want less prescription and more freedom to vary formal and informal methods of involving parents. Mrs Gillespie predicted that, within five years, schools would have devised far more imaginative solutions by ending the division between the present boards and the general body of parents.

The bill proposes to scrap boards in favour of a two-tier structure of forums and councils. All parents would be eligible to join the forum while the council would act as a smaller committee.

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