If you are a parent with a concern about the education of your child, time is of the essence.
Whether the issue is bullying, the quality of provision for a child with special needs or the competence of a teacher, the natural desire is for it to be resolved as promptly as possible. If the process stretches out unnecessarily, the concern becomes not just the issue itself but disruption caused before it is resolved.
What can seem a relatively short time to an adult can promptly become a major part of a child's school career. Even a term lost to an educational dispute can, perhaps, never be regained. That is why the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) describes the system for appealing against the decisions of an education authority as a long-running scandal.
The national organisation for parents groups in schools says the system, which gives families the right to complain directly to ministers about failures by a child's school or local education department, is slow, painful and convoluted.
Ministers seem to agree and are thought to accept that the system, which can involve families struggling for years to have decisions reviewed, can often be a practical example of the maxim: justice delayed is justice denied.
The Scottish Government's idea is to repeal the law that permits parents or pupils to appeal direct to minsters and replace it. Instead, it would like to see all complaints handled by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), the watchdog that provides a final port of call for those dissatisfied with a range of public bodies. The SPTC has put forward an alternative proposal that has much to commend it.
Additional Support Needs tribunals already deal with problems where parents are unhappy about provision for children with disabilities and other special needs. Given that this remains one of the issues most complained about to ministers, it makes a great deal of sense for the same body, or a new expanded service based on existing tribunals, to provide a single-door response to complaints against schools or education authorities.
Its staff already understand the issues and structures in schools and have a tested system for resolving disputes.
The only caveat is that there is a danger of undermining the role of the office of the SPSO. When members of the public are unhappy about the outcome of a complaint about councils, the NHS, water and sewage, the Scottish Government, housing associations or universities, the SPSO is their fallback.
This change would make schools a special case. But that decision has already been taken, in practice, with the provision of the tribunals for dealing with Additional Support Needs.
The Faculty of Advocates has warned a vital safeguard for parents could disappear along with the loss of a right of appeal for parents to ministers. That is a concern. But the system does not work and ministers should give the SPTC's suggestion detailed consideration.
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