Section 8 — Functions of a Parent Council

Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 10th May 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:30 pm, 10th May 2006

Group 7 is on the functions of a parent council. Amendment 28, in the name of James Douglas-Hamilton, is grouped with amendments 32 and 29.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Amendment 28 is supported by the Scottish School Board Association. The purpose of the amendment is to clarify that parent councils are to have regular contact with teachers at the school, in the interests of promoting parental involvement. The parent council should promote contact between management, teachers, parents, pupils and the local community for the benefit of children's well-being and attainment.

I will also support amendment 32, in the name of Phil Gallie, which is based on the existing provision in section 9(2) of the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988 that gives boards the right to approve spending on teaching materials. Amendment 32 would make that provision more specific, in that it would apply to materials relating to sex and relationships education. The amendment would therefore give parents appropriate influence over of how such a sensitive subject is taught to their children.

Amendment 29, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, is also worthy of support. Its purpose is to augment the quality of parental involvement by giving parent councils the right to make representations on any appropriate matter to the local authority and other public bodies, not including the police, the fire service, the health board or Scottish Enterprise. The amendment would help to keep the school a central part of the community.

I move amendment 28.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

In last week's debate on human rights, a new word was mentioned in the chamber—responsibility. There was particular emphasis on the responsibility of parents for their children. I recognise that the state also has a responsibility to our children. The state protects children in health and sexual matters by setting in statute 16 as the age of consent.

I believe that the bill should leave parents with the responsibilities that they currently have under the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988, which it effectively replaces. Amendment 32 in my name upholds the right of parents to determine what material is fit for production in respect of sex education and education on drugs for their children in schools.

In advancing my argument for giving parents a say, I draw members' attention to the national health guidelines for teaching in schools. I point to the page that determines the guidelines for those in the 11-to-14 age bracket. I will not read out all the items, as that would be offensive, but I will give members a taste. The document refers to

"Use of sexual toys eg vibrators or other items ... Sadism and/or masochism—the use of pain ... Dressing up—tying up ... Multiple partner at one time—ie more than 2 people".

I suggest that it is wrong to put those matters before children who are aged between 11 and 14. However, that is not for me to judge—I believe that it is for every parent to judge. The amendment that I have lodged would allow parents to have a say. I recommend that all members should examine the national guidelines. I believe that they are inappropriate and that parents have a right to judge. I ask members to support amendment 32.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Amendment 29 is in line with the position that was adopted by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities at stage 1. This is the first time that we have had an opportunity to debate, to legislate on and to vote on the matter. The aim of the amendment is to ensure that the role of parent councils is not restricted to the life and circumstances of the school but relates to wider community planning and strategic issues, such as transport and the school's surrounding environment. If we believe that schools should be at the heart of the community, we should agree with COSLA and support the amendment, to ensure that schools can contribute and be consulted on issues that touch on them.

I support amendment 28, in the name of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. Unless we vote for the amendment, there will be no mention of teachers in the bill. There is an acknowledgement of the role of head teachers and parents, but teachers and their connection with pupils should also be supported.

I think that, with amendment 32, Phil Gallie is hijacking the bill. The amendment is a very late contribution and is misplaced. If he had paid any attention to the contributions that have been made by parents organisations and by the Education Committee, he would know that the matters to which the amendment refers will be part and parcel of consultation on and discussion of parental involvement in the very educational issues about which I have argued all afternoon. The framework of the legislation allows for that.

Why do I think that Phil Gallie is wrong? His arguments are misplaced in a number of respects. He says that amendment 32 replicates the provisions of the 1988 act. If he had looked at that act, he would know that it does not. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton was also incorrect in saying that. The 1988 act gives schools boards authority over spending. Amendment 32 is not about spending, but about approval. Phil Gallie says that it is about ensuring that parents have a say, but in fact it is about ensuring that they have a veto. Why should it end with sex and drugs? Why should the amendment not extend to religion? It could be a charter for establishing creationist schools. If a member comes late to a piece of legislation, they should think through the content and technical details of the amendment that they lodge, rather than going for headlines and seeking to hijack the bill. Some of us have taken a lot of time and put in a lot of effort to ensure that parents have meaningful involvement in their children's education. On that basis, I will support amendments 29 and 28 but reject amendment 32.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 10th May 2006

I will concentrate on amendment 32, which I urge members to reject.

In Scottish legislation, we already have sufficient provision to ensure that parents are adequately consulted on matters of this nature. The Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000 made that a requirement and the national guidance that was issued on sex education in schools specifically says that parents should be consulted on these matters. It is absolutely right that that should happen, but it is absolutely wrong that parents should have a veto, whether collectively or through a small group that might take over a school board in order to push its agenda. That would not be an acceptable way forward.

In particular, the approach that is suggested would be wrong because it ignores the issue of who education is for. The education that we are talking about delivering is not for the parents; it is for the children. It is supposed to ensure that children can make informed choices, subject to their being the appropriate age, based on educational materials that are appropriate to their level of understanding. The idea that children should be denied appropriate educational materials because a small minority of parents think that they should not have access to them is dangerous and will put at risk many children who are not at risk at present. We have sensible provisions for dealing with these matters and we do not want to bring in rules that are not sensible and that would allow a small minority of parents to veto the important sex and drugs education programmes that are available to our children in our schools.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I also want to speak briefly on amendment 32. The position that we have heard from the Conservatives today, which is that parents should be given the power of control over material relating to sexual health and drugs education, is familiar. However, although I am not surprised that it has been raised, I am quite astonished at the fact that the amendment is as blunt as it is. If Phil Gallie were to propose that parent councils should ascertain the views of the parents, under section 8(e), or promote contact and communication on these issues, that would be fine—discussion of these issues would be positive. However, the simple veto that is included in the amendment, without caveats, constraints or controls, is another matter entirely.

Phil Gallie talked about human rights, yet there is nothing in the amendment that would prevent the infringement of the human rights of young people to their education. Further, he does himself no favours by proposing the amendment in a speech that implied that wildly inappropriate material is circulating freely in schools. That is simply not the case. If Mr Gallie has an opportunity to respond to what has been said about the amendment, I would like him to say whether there is anything in the amendment that would prevent it from being used as a charter for the worst kind of keep-the-clause bigotry.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

I, too, oppose the amendment in the name of Phil Gallie, which appears to be nothing more than an opportunistic attempt to create some lurid tabloid headlines—a kind of revisiting of the section 2A debate. Mr Gallie appears to imply that, if left to their own devices, teachers will peddle inappropriate sex and drugs propaganda to our children. Such notions do not deserve to be given any house room. Promoting moral and healthy behaviour will naturally be something that schools and parent councils will be anxious to get right and they should be left to get on with it without interference from would-be moral majoritarians. I trust that the Parliament will knock this nasty little amendment on its head.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I recognise the point behind amendment 28, in the name of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, which is to do with the importance of contact between parents and the managers and teachers of a school. However, once again, the amendment is unnecessary. As section 8 sets out the whole range of players with whom a parent council should promote contact, it is unnecessary for the bill to refer expressly to the school's management or teachers in that regard. The bill enables the parent council to promote contact with parents, the head teacher and his or her staff, pupils and others with an interest in school education. That process will be led by the parent council and, indeed, will prove important to its effective functioning. As a result, the bill's present reference to "the school" is appropriate and proportionate, and amendment 28 adds nothing to the provisions.

Much has been said about the amendment in the name of Phil Gallie, which Adam Ingram rightly characterised as "this nasty little amendment". Mr Ingram is not the sort of chap who gets terribly excited during debates, but he certainly got carried away with his references to lurid headlines. He hit the nail right on the head. I believe that giving parent councils the function of approving materials used by the school to promote education in sexual health, drugs or any other area, which is what Phil Gallie seeks to do, is not something that most parents want. Indeed, consultation on the bill showed that very few parents wanted control over a school's spending or teaching materials, although they wanted to be consulted where appropriate.

It is quite disingenuous of Mr Gallie to say that amendment 32 simply follows the wording of provisions in the School Boards (Scotland) Act

1988. As other members have pointed out, that is simply not the case. Furthermore, like Patrick Harvie, I totally refute the notion that wildly inappropriate materials are circulating in our schools and corrupting our children's morals.

Accepting amendment 32 would lead to the introduction of inappropriate and unwanted procedures for approving educational materials and would cause confusion over whether the head teacher or the parent council had the final say on the use of materials. Indeed, it might seriously complicate the work of schools, particularly secondary schools, where sex education and associated issues are taught right across the curriculum in, for example, biology, personal and social education and religious and moral education.

As Iain Smith and other members have made clear, parents and carers already have a means of making their views known. In developing and revising their health education programmes, local authorities and schools are expected to consult parents, carers and the wider community. Moreover, schools are expected to work in partnership with parents and put in place arrangements to allow parents to raise concerns. Although most parents or carers are happy to let their child take part in the school's sex education programme, in some exceptional cases a parent or carer might prefer to deal with that aspect of their child's education at home. That is their human right. However, it is not right to impose that view on everyone else. I should also point out that the child's views must also be taken into account in reaching any decision.

Parents have other means of raising their concerns on matters such as sexual health or drugs education materials. For example, the parent council itself can raise such matters with the head teacher and the education authority and, if it is not content with the response, with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education.

I echo the concerns that Fiona Hyslop expressed in her excellent contribution about members attempting to introduce such substantial—and, to some extent, irrelevant—amendments at stage 3. Such actions are a total denial of the Parliament's consultative processes. If Phil Gallie had truly been serious about influencing the bill, he would have lodged an amendment at stage 2 for proper consideration by the committee. Amendment 32 suggests that there is a problem where none exists—

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

If the minister feels that it is inappropriate to introduce a whole raft of new material at stage 3, he must also feel that it was inappropriate for the Scottish Executive to import the provisions on landlord registration in exactly the same way.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am talking about the committee consideration of this bill. As I have said, with amendment 32, Phil Gallie seeks to suggest that there is a problem in this matter. However, no such problem exists or provision to deal with it has been worked through. As provision that suits all parents' needs has indeed been made, the Parliament should not agree to this nasty little amendment.

On amendment 29, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, I acknowledge that there are certain non-educational issues in which parents may have an interest and on which they must have the opportunity to make their voice heard. However, as I have pointed out, a parent council can report parents' concerns on any issue to the head teacher, the education authority or anyone else whom the council considers appropriate. I feel that amendment 29 affects the central position of education in the legislation. Although people can raise other issues through the parent council, the council's primary purpose is to deal with educational issues. As a result, there is no need for the bill to highlight representation on non-educational matters any more than it does already.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Amendment 32 has caused us to bypass other subjects but, on amendment 29 specifically, how would a parent council make representation on child protection issues to, for example, a health authority? Health authorities are not mentioned in the bill. Would the parent council have to do that via the local authority? If amendment 29 were accepted, the parent council could make direct representation to the relevant authority.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

That does not need to go in the bill in the way that amendment 29 suggests. Section 8(1)(a) and section 8(2)(c), in particular, give the parent council the ability to make representations to whomsoever it chooses. Things can work extremely well without having to be spelled out as in amendment 29.

The bill has the balance right on the function of the parent council. I therefore urge members to resist amendments 28, 29 and 32.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I will be brief. The minister has been grossly unfair to my friend Phil Gallie. The minister is entirely incorrect. Section 9(1) of the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988 says:

"Every education authority shall, in every financial year, make available to the headteacher of every school in their area such funds as they think necessary for the purchase of books and other teaching materials for the school, and for such other purposes as they think fit."

Section 9(2) says:

"The headteacher—

(a) shall from time to time make proposals to the School Board as to how the funds provided under this section should be spent; and

(b) shall not spend funds on any proposal unless it is approved by the Board."

If the minister submits to this Parliament that the position is all right at present, I submit to him that that is because parents have been given powers and rights under the 1988 act. The minister is trying to sweep those powers and rights away. For that reason, we think that his opposition to Phil Gallie this afternoon and his comments on amendment 32 are unworthy of any minister of the Crown. The minister's comments should be rejected.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 28 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

There will be a division. Members who wish to support amendment 28 should press their yes buttons.

I say to Alex Neil that it is his request-to-speak button that he has pressed. [Laughter.]

Division number 7

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Swinburne, John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen
Abstentions: Gallie, Phil

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 36, Against 65, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 28 disagreed to.

Amendment 32 moved—[Phil Gallie].

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 32 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 8

For: Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Johnstone, Alex, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Petrie, Dave, Scott, John
Against: Adam, Brian, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McFee, Mr Bruce, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 14, Against 89, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 32 disagreed to.

Amendment 14 moved—[Robert Brown]—and agreed to.

Amendment 29 moved—[Fiona Hyslop].

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:00 pm, 10th May 2006

The question is, that amendment 29 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 9

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Swinburne, John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 39, Against 64, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 29 disagreed to.

Amendment 15 moved—[Robert Brown]—and agreed to.