Education writer James McEnaney speaks to Leanne McGuire, chair of the Glasgow City Parents Group, to find out how the group is helping parents to have their voices heard. 

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today about the work you do. First thing’s first - what is Glasgow City Parents Group and how is it run? 

Glasgow City Parents Group is a group of volunteer parents. We are all originally members of our own school parent council and then we have put ourselves forward to represent our school and our city in this voluntary group. So it's a standalone volunteer group that does work in partnership with Glasgow education services, but they have no authority over us and no say over how we're run. We entirely run it ourselves - we set out own agenda, for example.

We make sure that our members are Parent Council members, and that's not to try and be elitist or anything - it's purely to try and keep the flow of communication from parents and carers, through the school through the Parent Council, through us, and through to education services or the Scottish Government, and back as well. But it's entirely voluntary and we don't get any money for what we do, so we just basically used the skills and knowledge that we have a across our volunteers to run this group. 

How long has the group been running and how did it all start? 

The group started in 2018, although at that point it was just me. In Glasgow there's generally always been a citywide group of such, and there was what was called the Glasgow Parent Council Forum before. It was of a similar ilk, and I took part in that group as well for a short period of time - and then that group disbanded we didn't have a city group for about a year and a half. Thankfully Glasgow education services do value parental engagement, although some of your readers might disagree with that, but for the most part they do and they value having a city group. So they put a call out for volunteers and I put my hand up. At first, and in the lead up to Covid, the engagement had just dropped so much. It was in-person meetings we used to have in one of the schools in Glasgow, and maybe once every term we’d have speakers come along, but engagement levels were dropping, social media wasn’t doing much, and literally the week before Covid I met with education services to close this group down because we weren’t getting any volunteers for it. 

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And then as we know, Covid sparks an interest for parents and carers in education, and we just rode that wave. We took everything online, social media went crazy, out engagement levels spiked through the roof. Online doesn’t work for everybody, but it definitely helps in terms of running a city group. During that year we got more volunteers and it really did become a group, and now we’re constantly building on that. 

So the way we operate now is that we have a core committee, I’m the chair of that committee, and we have a vice chair. We’ve never felt the need for a treasurer or secretary, because we don’t have a bank account.  

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But we discuss things as a group and it’s not my opinion that I put forward – I will ask the group for their thoughts, what’s happening in their school, and sometimes we’ll maybe put a question out on social media and pick it up from there. So it's entirely run by us: we will set an agenda each month and normally that agenda comes about from things that are maybe discussed in the media or things that are being raised across our schools. 

We also hold what we call a monthly chinwag, and that's where we invite parent council members - just anybody at all - to join a really informal, casual chat on zoom and it's an opportunity to ask each other questions or ask us questions or get updates that we know about. It's also an opportunity to kind of canvas for views. 

We try our best to make sure that we're getting the views of not just parent councils, but other parents and carers as well, and that's through holding webinars, focus groups, surveys and things like that. We're very conscious that parent councils can be seen as quite cliquey and can often not be as diverse as your school. 

You must regularly find yourself in a position where a parent has found your group and has come to you directly for advice, even though you volunteer parents rather than council officials. What do you do in that situation? 

Very often parents do that.  

On a day-to-day basis year we get a wide range of questions. So sometimes it's something it's simple as someone asking 'do you know what menu we're on this week for primary schools?' So that's dead easy - you send them a link. So you know that's factual and that's fine. And then you get more complicated requests. 

A good example is one I got this week through Twitter where a family is having some problems with their accommodation: their neighbours being anti-social, being racist towards them, et cetera. That's where I would say we're not the best people to contact for this so I would suggest like maybe you go to your Citizens Advice Bureau or try Shelter or speak to your local housing association. We're not sitting here pretending that we are the experts. 

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The most common questions we get are 'my child is being bullied at school - what do I do about that?' or 'I feel that my child's homework is too difficult for them - how do I approach that?', or 'my child has additional support needs and I don't feel they're being met - what do I do?' 

So they're really just asking us as parents: what's the best advice to handle that situation? Generally I will then talk them through who they should be going speak to in the school, and I always start off saying to ask for a meeting with the head teacher or the class teacher or whoever the main point of contact is. Sometimes we need to advise them on the complaints process as well. 

But I think the main thing for us is sometimes the answers are actually quite logical and quite easy but if you're a parent and you're quite upset or stressed out about a certain situation sometimes you just need to hear that from someone else to be assured that that's the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s just about giving you a wee steer in the right direction because you don’t know what you don’t know. 

What is the benefit to the group existing in terms of education across the city of Glasgow. Why should other councils support something similar? 

I mean it's a two-way street. First and foremost, we are here to represent parents' and carers' views, and from that point of you it's essential that we have a group like this because some decisions are made at a city level. 

In terms of what benefit it brings to a council, one good thing about having a city-wide group like this is that you can bounce ideas off the group and ask for their views before you maybe roll out a new initiative or a new communication. So you can ask for that input and you can also, if there's something you want to quickly turn around and you need a quick focus group to get the viewpoint of parents - well, there's your group right there, and you’ll have a variety of viewpoints within it already. 

I think it also makes you look as a council that you are more open to parental engagement because we have to remember that there is a Parental Involvement Acts and you really should be abiding by it. If you're not then you cannot claim to be nurturing, or encouraging family learning. One thing I constantly say to councillors is if you want to win over young people and children, whether it's around equalities or literacy or trying to encourage them to do more maths, you have to win the hearts and minds of the parents.