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Last Updated: Monday, 2 May, 2005, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Warning of school 'parent power'
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website, at the NAHT conference

David Hart
All parents must sign up to basic standards, Mr Hart said
A head teachers' leader has warned of the danger of giving "irresponsible parents" power in schools.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, was referring to the government's strategy of reinforcing parents' roles.

That could send the wrong message to irresponsible parents, he said.

"Giving more power to those parents who lack responsibility is like putting an alcoholic in charge of a bar," he told his annual conference.

He said school governing bodies should be slimmed down and have an advisory council elected by parents.


Mr Hart's comments reinforced a theme at this year's conference, being held in Telford, Shropshire, attributing worsening pupil behaviour to poor parenting.

He said all parents must sign up to basic standards, including respect for school staff and a recognition that violence, threats and abuse were unacceptable.

The problem with governing bodies was that "too often they micro manage", Mr Hart said - rather than sticking to their overall strategic responsibilities.

He said governors were "the largest volunteer force in the public service" whose contribution had not been properly recognised.

But governing bodies were too large, "too overloaded with parents" and "lumbered" with too many types of governor.

At the moment 10% of the schools budget is not received by schools, 10% is retained by the local authorities
General secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart

Current rules meant there could be 20 governors - a third of them parents, who often did not speak for all parents but who were, understandably, interested in the needs of their own children.

He said: "An advisory council, elected by the parents, might well produce a more effective parental body."

Portsmouth secondary school governor Neil Davies, who chairs the National Governors' Council, said often the problem was that training for governors was voluntary.

If they had to undergo at least a compulsory induction course they would have a better sense of their role.

But he said: "Why shouldn't I, as a parent, have a say in the school that my children go to?

"It makes sense to have a group of people like the parents who come at it from a different angle and ask the challenging questions and support the school."

Labour has promised to give parents a greater say in their children's education if re-elected.

Mr Hart said schools would provide "personalised learning" for their pupils - but parents must not "suddenly expect" one-to-one tuition without more funding.

And while parents should be consulted about healthy school meals, they must not think they could control this, let alone other aspects of school management.


The NAHT leader devoted much of his speech to the issue of school funding, saying schools should be put in control of their own budgets.

Delegates give standing ovation after the speech
Mr Hart's speech was popular among the delegates
"There is too much top-slicing, too much money sticking to the sides at the moment and not getting into the schools," he said earlier on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"At the moment 10% of the schools budget is not received by schools, 10% is retained by the local authorities. We're talking about several billion [pounds].

"We need to look seriously at whether the time has not come for that money to go to the schools, to let the schools decide whether they want the services from the local authority or not."

In his speech, he also dealt with the divisive issue of the national agreement between the government and most education unions on reducing teachers' workloads in England and Wales.

The NAHT voted in March to pull out of this, with many of its members complaining they could not afford to give teachers the preparation time, out of lessons, to which they will be legally entitled from September.

This has angered unions representing teachers, with threats of legal and industrial action which Mr Hart said might bring "an autumn of discontent".

He has described his association's withdrawal from the agreement as weakening its voice and "shooting oneself in the foot".

He said it was up to those who had wanted to pull out to say how they would now achieve the necessary funding.

Final speech

Mr Hart, who retires this autumn, was delivering his last conference speech after 27 years as the association's leader.

His replacement is to be Nottinghamshire primary head Mick Brookes.

Mr Brookes won a clear majority in a membership ballot after challenging the union leadership's preferred appointee.

Although he made no direct reference to this, Mr Hart left the delegates with the thought that they as school leaders needed to "seize the education agenda".

He told them to remember the doctrine that "the public does not elect divided parties" - the association's membership and its national council must become united.

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