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April 22, 2009

Govt wants more power for parents

At a time when parents’ views on school closures and class sizes are being disregarded by Glasgow City Council (see last briefing), it seems that the Scottish Government is championing a revolution in “parent power” which would see the setting up of a new national body to give families a stronger voice on school issues.

More detail….

New national body for parents to be set up

Scotland’s education secretary is championing a “parent power” revolution which would see the setting up of a new national body to give families a stronger voice on school issues.

Fiona Hyslop said that, at a time of significant changes to the curriculum, it was vital parents had a greater say over policy developments.

Today’s call comes with the publication of a government-backed survey of parent councils across Scotland which showed overwhelming support for a new national body. Of the 500 parent councils who responded, 80% are in favour of change.

“It is extremely important that parent councils seize this opportunity to be heard at a time when Scottish education is undergoing its biggest reform in a generation,” said Ms Hyslop.

“The setting up of a new national parents’ body to represent their views would give parents a voice and contribute to the key decisions affecting the education of their children.

“Since parent councils were introduced in 2007, replacing the outdated school board system, more parents have been finding their voice. Now, however, is the time for a new national parent body to act as their mouthpiece.”

There was a mixed reaction to the call for change from the two existing parental bodies – the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC), set up to represent parent teacher associations, and the Scottish Parent Councils Association (SPCA), which was founded to represent school boards.

Judith Gillespie, policy development officer for the SPTC, said there was no need for a single national body and that it was impossible for one organisation to represent the views of all parents.

“Parents in Scotland do not have one view of education. There are many different views and those views cannot be represented adequately in one single body,” she said.

“It is also important to stress that the role of a parent body is not to be a quasi government-backed body, but to be an independent organisation close to the grassroots.

“One of the primary motivations for this suggestion is the fact that the government has a statutory duty to consult with parents and having a single national body makes that easier – unfortunately, it does not guarantee parents any greater influence.”

However, she said that if change were required, the SPTC could form the basis of a new organisation.

Donald Gunn MacDonald, a spokesman for the Scottish Parent Councils Association, said his organisation was prepared to be dissolved under the right circumstances.

“If a meaningful representative body can be formed we see no future in continuing the dualism of the current system. We want to see elected representation from each of the local authority areas in Scotland running the new organisation, rather than the organisation simply being led by a few individuals.”

Ms Hyslop’s call follows legislation in 2007 which scrapped school boards and replaced them with parent councils which, in most cases, now incorporate parent teacher associations.

The feeling at the time was that the current set-up was not best placed to represent parents nationally and there were also fears that many parents – particularly in deprived areas – were not involved in the education of their children.

The Scottish Government will now invite representatives from all of Scotland’s parent councils to attend a conference in June to discuss how they can make the creation of a national parent body a reality.