Rethink parent forums

10th June 2005 at 01:00
So the turkeys have not voted for Christmas, and why would they? The consultation exercise carried out by the Scottish School Board Association reveals, unsurprisingly, that there was a 95 per cent rejection of the Scottish Executive's plans to repeal the school board legislation in the parental involvement Bill (page three). Equally predictably, partly because its views have been no secret and partly because of its antipathy to school boards stretching back to the days of opting out, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council has confirmed its role as cheer-leader for the proposals.

The inconclusive outcome from the consultation might prompt Jack McConnell to say to Peter Peacock, in best Oliver Hardy style, "there's a fine mess you've gotten us into". The truth is that school boards have largely "gone native", despite initial fears they would act as levers to prise schools away from local authority control. They have usually been strong champions for their schools, able to speak out where heads would fear to tread. It would not be surprising therefore if local authorities had pressed for change against such an irritant, but there is no evidence of any popular uprising.

The main arguments against boards appear to be that not all schools have one (though 89 per cent do), that they involve a minority of parents, that they reflect parent interest in school management rather than parent involvement in their children's education, and that their election and other processes are cumbersome. The test surely ought to be whether any of these negatives will be turned to positives by having non-statutory parent forums instead of legislative school boards. After all, the logical outcome of allowing parents to choose is that they may choose not to have forums.

There have been no substantive arguments as to why abolition is preferable to amendment, for instance by simply binning the current election process for board members and leaving it to be administered locally - with guidance, of course. Peter Peacock might now be well advised to go back to the drawing board and come up with proposals which combine the best of school boards with the more flexible and education-centred vision he has for parent forums. He needs all parents to be on board.

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