Unhappy parents can send for the inspectors

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Parent bodies are to be given a significant new power to request an inspection from HMIE where there are "outstanding concerns" about a school.

This was the most unexpected element in the First Minister's statement on Tuesday about the Scottish Executive's legislative programme for the next two years.

The measure will be contained in the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Bill, likely to be published at the end of this month. The bill aims to strengthen parent links with schools and sweep away the present school board system.

Parents are also set to gain a complaints procedure which all authorities will be expected to set up, modelled on the advice, conciliation and mediation service run by Edinburgh City Council. But the new service will be specifically limited to the authorities' duties under the bill - to achieve more effective parent involvement in all aspects of education.

Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said she did not believe there was "a huge ground swell of demand" for the right to initiate a school inspection.

"The difficulties most parents have with schools tend to be individual ones about their own children, rather than collective concerns about the school as a whole," Mrs Gillespie said. "What is much more necessary is to have a mediation procedure in every authority, of which Edinburgh is unfortunately the only example, to help resolve disputes."

Caroline Vass, president of the Scottish School Board Association, said that boards already had the option to approach HMIE if they had concerns; the First Minister was simply putting this on an official basis.

Most boards and parents would take a sensitive approach and work with schools to resolve problems before resorting to the inspectorate.

In his statement, covering all areas of Executive policy, Jack McConnell said: "Our school inspection system is based on a top-down approach, where it is the inspectorate themselves who decide which school is to be inspected."

The new statutory right to request an inspection will be established where parent bodies have "outstanding concerns that the school or local authority have not been able to resolve satisfactorily".

The parental involvement bill will also place a duty on headteachers to provide a report at least once a year. Mr McConnell described this as "not only to report annually on the school's performance, but to set out each year their ambitions for the school, how it can and will improve".

The First Minister suggested that the new system "will help give every parent in Scotland a better understanding of their own child's education, a greater sense of attachment to their child's school and a clear route to voice their opinions and be heard".

The other major educational feature in Mr McConnell's statement was the promise of a Health Promotion, Nutrition and Schools Bill. Among other things, it will create new powers to ban the sale of fizzy drinks "that are so damaging to child health". The bill will also set nutritional standards on a statutory footing.

These measures represent a considerable beefing up of the Executive's "Hungry for Success" school meals initiative, which Mr McConnell announced would receive another pound;70 million over the next three years.

Ministers had previously declined to take legislative powers over nutrition standards and fizzy drinks.

The Executive now says that by putting standards on a statutory footing, "we will effectively restrict the food on sale in schools to healthy options".

But ministers have once again ruled out free school meals for all. "We will not compromise our ability to fund high-quality school meal provision by giving a free benefit to those who have sufficient resources to support their family well."

Other measures pledged are the reform of children's hearings, pushing forward plans for the inspection of child protection services and renewing efforts to re-engage the 35,000 16-19s who are not in education, employment or training (the NEET group).

Leader 30

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