Chapter 7: Parental and community empowerment
Across all responses, there was general agreement that parents, on the whole, were well engaged with their child's school and that they were adequately represented under current arrangements, though a minority voiced issues around a lack of communication.
The main barrier to improvement of parental involvement revolved around a lack of participation from some parents, with certain demographics traditionally avoiding involvement in parent council activities.
A lack of diversity was cited within parent councils. Resolving this issue was seen as related less to governance than to encouraging participation from under-represented groups.
The consultation document stated that the Scottish Government's objective is to devolve decision making and funding to teachers, schools and communities in order to open schools up. Respondents were asked how children, parents, communities, employers, colleges, universities and others could play a stronger role in school life.
Respondents were also asked how the governance arrangements could support more community-led early learning and childcare provision particularly in remote and rural areas.
7.1 Attitudes towards current system
Many respondents felt that parents were already well engaged with their schools, and that parents (either directly or through representatives) were taken into consideration when making decisions that affect their schools. This came through from both parent councils and schools/head teacher associations, as well as from many individual respondents commenting on parental empowerment under current arrangements.
The feeling was that the current governance arrangements already provided adequate opportunity for parents to engage with schools and head teachers. The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act and the National Improvement Framework were cited as existing frameworks already supporting parental involvement. It was believed that barriers to increasing that engagement had little to do with governance structures and more to do with participation rates of parents, particularly parents from specific demographics.
A minority of parent councils felt that there were issues with the current relationship between themselves and schools particularly around communication and consultation.
The main issue for parents who responded individually to the consultation was poor communication by schools. Some parents would welcome regular communications as well as being automatically sent test results alongside an explanation of scores. Some parents also mentioned a need to review complaints procedures.
7.2 Role of parent councils
The consensus amongst organisations was that parents wished to have a voice and influence in their child's education and play a role in the workings of their school. The degree and scope of that role varied depending on the respondent, with most referencing generic "engagement" rather than providing examples of direct parental involvement.
Many respondents stated that they specifically did not believe parent councils wanted to run schools but that their involvement was important. The majority of these responses were from headteachers and parent councils themselves.
On the whole, individual respondents did not want more power and responsibilities to lie with parent councils either. Some individuals saw more powers for parent councils as irrelevant given a 'culture of apathy' amongst parents. Others were strongly opposed to parent councils having more responsibility in schools, arguing that this will favour schools in more affluent areas.
A few individual respondents did want more 'teeth' in governance terms for parent councils. No detail about what these responsibilities would look like was offered, beyond a general role in 'overseeing teaching and learning' and 'moving beyond fundraising'.
7.3 Issues/barriers for greater community empowerment
The main issues raised within the current system by organisations and individuals were:
- The importance of clear lines of communication between schools and parents;
- Increasing levels of parental participation (particularly amongst those from disadvantaged backgrounds);
- Increasing the diversity of parental councils (again, paying particular note to those from disadvantaged backgrounds);
- Time pressures amongst parents acting as a barrier to further parental involvement;
- Time pressures amongst teachers acting as a barrier to greater collaboration with the community.
Multiple respondents commented that they felt that changing current government arrangements to give parents more control could inadvertently have the effect of decreasing parental participation rather than increasing it. Respondents noted that this would be due to the perceived increased level of responsibility acting as a barrier for entry (a lack of confidence amongst parental groups was cited as a reason for this).
Decreased participation, it was noted, could exacerbate differences in participation rates between parents of children from deprived and less deprived backgrounds.
Finally a minority of organisations pointed out the potential issues of simultaneously wishing to increase teacher/school power and parental influence. It was felt that providing greater power to one could in turn decrease it from the other. This was particularly highlighted with reference to parental councils controlling the actions of schools.
7.4 Children and young people's voice
A number of organisations (not all of whom were specifically concerned with children's welfare and advocacy) also stated that pupils should have a voice in the development of their learning and schools. However, there was some variation about what kind of decisions pupils should be involved in.
A few individual respondents believed children and young people should be empowered to have an active role in schools and be consulted more often. Some of these individual respondents mentioned a greater role for pupil councils.
7.5 Community-led early learning and childcare provision
The consultation document asked respondents how governance arrangements could support more community-led early learning and childcare provision, particularly in remote and rural areas. This question attracted the fewest number of responses, with only 57 per cent of respondents commenting on the topic. Many answers, however, stated the lack of knowledge on the area or questioned the relevance of the question within the context of a governance review.
Confusion about this question was particularly clear for individual respondents, where most responses were about general early learning and childcare, rather than community-led early learning and childcare specifically. Some respondents wished to see more council-provided early learning and childcare as a first step.
Several individual respondents pointed to the Finnish model as an example of best practice in this area.
Governance related issues
Amongst respondents who answered the question, there was consensus that greater emphasis should be placed on early learning rather than childcare. A few respondents specifically stated that they would welcome the re-introduction of teacher-led early learning.
Integrating models linking early years to schools was another area mentioned in many responses. The most recurrent idea was to include nursery provision within the primary school setting. However, some potential issues were highlighted in that respect, namely that:
- Some schools do not have the capacity or infrastructure to take early learning on board; and that
- Childcare should not be the responsibility of head teachers.
Regulatory compliance and quality provision was an area of concern for many respondents. There was consensus that the regulatory regime was demanding for community volunteers who may not have the appropriate training. Some highlighted that there might be scope to review the expectations of qualifications required for managers in community-led early learning. Others asked for greater support from local authorities to ensurle compliance and quality provision across the board.
Many respondents offered practical ideas on how to improve community-led early learning and childcare provision in remote and rural areas. The most recurrent themes related to:
- Greater usage of current facilities/access to school or community buildings;
- Provision of free transport to tackle reported high levels of fuel poverty;
- Better broadband provision to prevent parents from becoming isolated; and
- More funding was requested as not all community-led services were financially viable.
A few respondents stated that in some rural areas it could be challenging to increase community-led provision due to the small number of parents or community members available to take on key roles.
Email: Daniel Waddell
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House