On the way to the forum

17th June 2005 at 01:00
While conflict makes good journalistic copy, can I make it clear that we support the proposed parent forums because we think they offer a good way for parents to be represented - not, as your leader suggested last week, because of "antipathy to school boards stretching back to the days of opting out".

Indeed, many Scottish Parent Teacher Council directors have experience of serving on school boards and are well aware of the good work that they do.

However, the format of four-year terms of office and formal business committees does not fit well with most parents' lives. Parents often cannot tell from one year to the next what calls will be made on their time and find a four-year commitment daunting.

Your leader also states that the proposals will replace boards with "non-statutory parent forums". I am puzzled by this as my understanding of "statutory" is that it means "enacted", set up by law. The new forums will be set up by law; it is merely their format that will be open to local decision.

In many respects this is not very different from the requirement in the 2000 Education Act for headteachers to consult pupils and seek to involve them in the school development plan. The requirement is statutory, the format is open to local decision-making. I do not remember any fuss then from anyone.

You also say that there have been "no substantive arguments as to why abolition (of the school board legislation) is preferable to amendment, for instance by simply binning the current election process". However, it is worth pointing out that the original legislation, passed in 1988, has already been amended twice -in 1996 and again in 2000.

"Binning the current election process", as you proposed, would constitute a further major amendment of the original legislation; indeed, as such a large part of the original legislation concerns the election process, such an amendment would make it unrecognisable and very confusing.

It is better surely therefore to start again and draw up proposals that do fit current needs. As has been pointed out, the proposed legislation allows schools to continue with their existing board, if that is what parents want. They can even opt to have local elections.

I strongly suspect that if the new proposals had continued to use the term "school board", then those who want no more than a "tweaking" of the existing legislation would have recognised that this is what they are being offered. The problem has arisen because the legislation talks about "parent forums". However, this is no more than a generic term. The body set up at the school can have any name that the parents at that school wish it to have, including "school board".

It is strange that local authorities can have a variety of differently titled officials to run education and everyone can cope with that, yet people seem incapable of coping with the same level of flexibility when it comes to parent bodies.

Judith Gillespie Development manager Scottish Parent Teacher Council

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