Review asked wrong questions about boards

6th December 2002 at 00:00
Philip Banks' review of support for school boards was necessary but asked the wrong questions (TESS, November 15). The Executive has realised the limitations and problems with the structure it is reviewing, but has assumed boards to be inviolate as the only legal framework for parental involvement, without exploring alternatives.

The resulting report contains many contradictions. As currently constituted, boards find it hard to recruit members yet he says that the numbers of parents involved are too small. People are partly discouraged by the election process, but you must be prepared to submit to some scrutiny of your intent if you wish to influence school policies on behalf of parents.

He finds that parent members are unrepresentative. Unrepresentative is, as unrepresentative does - you should not be representing anybody unless you are prepared to seek his or her views. Having observed that boards tend to attract professional people confident in handling formal business, they are criticised for not having embraced the "higher agenda".

The Executive set that agenda. The Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000 laid a new charge on boards to function with a view to raising standards of education in schools, but not at parents' requests. Headteachers may see boards as a tool to help deliver targets, rather than one that fosters partnership and involvement more on parents' terms.

The report emphasises the need for training to support the needs of the higher agenda. And, of course, such an agenda will fail to engage the majority of parents. Whilst the Executive prescribes their functions, it will inevitably get boards that fail to be consistently effective. When parents have more ownership of the issues, then they will engage, and they should be allowed some flexibility in how they operate their entitlement.

Banks recommends a national restatement of aims and objectives, but he asked the wrong people what they wanted. A list of 118 inter-viewees named 48 headteachers, and 24 education authority staff including directors, support staff and finance officers. Only 38 board members were listed.

No other parents were asked their opinion of boards or how parental involvement could be increased. The report is accurate in portraying the current picture, but largely missed consulting the most important players.

Just for the record, I am a white middle-class (parent) chair of two school boards, and I have previously served a term on the executive of the Scottish School Board Association.

Joanne Beaumont

Kelvinside Terrace South

Glasgow

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