Scotland

School governance consultation 'excluded' many parents

  • 10 January 2017
  • From the section Scotland
Generic school pupils Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The government consultation of how schools should be governed closed last week

A consultation on possible changes to how schools are governed "excluded many parents", according to an organisation representing parent teacher councils.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council said it gathered more than 800 responses to submit to the Scottish government's consultation.

But it said most respondents skipped questions about the school governance review itself.

The SPTC also said some parents were left puzzled by consultation events.

The Scottish government has said that more than 1,000 people and organisations responded directly to its consultation.

The responses it received came from a wide range of people including teachers, parents and other stakeholders.

The government intends to devolve more powers to head teachers, and is also looking at creating new regional education boards to work across council areas.

Some in local government fear councils will end up with a greatly-reduced practical role.

A government consultation closed on Friday, with detailed plans likely later this year.

In the introduction to its response, the SPTC highlighted what it sees as problems with aspects of the consultation itself.

'Left puzzled'

It said: "While we gathered more than 800 responses, the majority of respondents skipped the questions about the governance review. This in itself communicates a great deal about the perspective of parents on this consultation.

"The feedback received regarding the consultation events has similarly indicated that parents who attended (and are therefore by definition motivated and engaged) have generally been left puzzled and feeling excluded from the debate.

"It is ironic that a document which has as one of its stated aims that parents should be more empowered, in fact excluded very many parents from participation.

"The consultation presumed high levels of knowledge about the existing governance model in Scottish education, and used language which would be familiar only to those working in the sector.

"It is tantamount to expecting a patient with a broken leg to understand the inner workings and operational structures of the various NHS services they might encounter: A&E, orthopaedics, anaesthesia, radiology, physiotherapy to name just a few.

"In reality, we know that the patient relies on the NHS to organise and provide the services needed to treat their injury, just as parents rely on schools and local authorities to organise and provide the educational support their child needs in the school system."

'Negative impact'

One of the key aims of the government's plans will be to try to ensure parents are more closely involved with schools.

On this issue, the SPTC said: "In terms of parental involvement, our experience is that school leadership is the key determining factor for the successful inclusion and involvement of families.

"This does not simply mean the presence of Parent Councils (though this is very often a proxy for parental involvement) but extends to shared leadership and engagement with the wide range of families who have a stake in a school.

"This variation is not only counter to statute and policy, it also impoverishes the school community and has a negative impact on the learning of young people.

"Sadly, in some situations there is a culture of parent blaming: if parents were more responsible and interested, or less feckless and demanding, then the schools could do their job. This type of world view does nothing to build partnership with families, which is a necessary component if schools are to work effectively.

"Parents, almost without exception, want the best for their children but often their circumstances or own learning difficulties make it difficult for them to see where they can make a difference."

'Wrong-headed'

A spokesman for the Scottish government said it had an "unwavering focus" on improving Scotland's education system to make it world-class.

He added: "That is why we are reviewing school governance and over 1,000 parents, teachers, head teachers, members of the general public and organisations including local authorities and unions have responded to our consultation which closed on 6 January.

"We will consider these consultation responses as we move to put schools and communities at the heart of the education system and ensure that decisions about the life of schools are driven by the schools themselves.

"As part of this process we have already committed to consult on a new Education Bill in early 2017."

Scottish Labour's Iain Gray said the SPTC response was "damning".

He added: "Parents now join teachers, headteachers, Cosla, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and even SNP councils like Dundee in telling John Swinney his "reforms" are wrong-headed, and that the real problem in schools is year in year budget cuts."

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