'Schizophrenia' on targets condemned by parents

2nd April 1999 at 01:00
LABOUR HAS been called "schizophrenic" for backing tighter legislative control over schools while advocating change from within.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council, responding to the Government's White Paper on Targeting Excellence, accuses ministers of ignoring recent experience of guidelines in favour of tough new laws in the Scottish parliament to crank up standards.

Judith Gillespie, the council's development manager, said: "The Government is totally schizophrenic. It talks about centralisation and devolution and you cannot have both. It says improvements come from within but is ready to impose legislation."

The council supports aspects of Labour's agenda for Holyrood but remains hostile to key elements in the standards-raising document, launched in January by Helen Liddell, the Education Minister.

There is no need, it says, for legislation on school and local authority development plans, target-setting and underperformance. The number of times the White Paper proposes upgrading guidelines to legislation implies its main focus is to give MSPs "something to do rather than meet the needs of Scottish education".

The council states: "The fact that the proposal to set a legislative framework for targets is followed by a heading, 'Empowering Schools to Make Decisions', illustrates precisely the conflict between the reality of central control and the rhetoric of local autonomy. The whole idea of flexibility and choice, of school control and responsibility, comes down to a matter of 'schools can do what they want as long as they do what the Government tells them'."

On target-setting, the SPTC says: "We are completely opposed to a statutory framework which would identify specific measures, specific periods and benchmark information. This would utterly deny schools the ability to set targets which are most appropriate to them. It would establish a system of complete central control."

Most damaging of all, benchmark information based on free meal entitlement is imperfect and only takes account of a third of the factors which impact on the differences between schools. "Parents are interested in how schools perform over time rather than in comparisons with other schools which may have very different circumstances," the SPTC maintains.

It further contends that the proposed national parent convention is impractical because of time and travel constraints. Involvement in children's education should come at school level from increased time devoted to dialogue between parents and teachers.

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