PARENTS are mounting a bid to create their own “alternative” state school, amid fresh calls for local authorities to provide greater choice within the education system.
The New School Action Group in the Southside of Edinburgh has entered talks with council chiefs to design their own primary school, run from within the council system but with its own ethos.
The parents are fans of the Montessori education system – which advocates more freedom for children – but say they do not want to have to go into the private sector to get it. They want Edinburgh City Council to adapt plans for the new school to suit their demands.
The move comes as education authorities across Scotland face growing calls to provide wider diversity within Scotland’s state sector. A report by the independent Commission on School Reform earlier this year said that one answer was for them to be given far more autonomy.
One leading educationalist who supported that report last week compared the hierarchical structure in the education system to the caste system in India.
David Cameron, an education consultant, added that the current system had failed to reduce the yawning gap between better-off and poorer homes.
Carol Cerdan, who is leading the group in Edinburgh, told Scotland on Sunday that while nurseries were now able to operate as they pleased, the same freedoms did not apply in the state sector.
“We are looking at models in the US, and in Australia and Scandinavia. They are further along the lines of catering for the emotional wellbeing of children and that is something we are really interested in,” she said.
Cerdan said the parents wanted to stay within the local authority system, rather than copy the English reforms under which so-called “free” schools are being set up independently of the local council.
She added: “We don’t believe in private education. We don’t want to set up a free school. We don’t want it to be a route out. This isn’t a bunch of middle-class parents who want to set up their lovely nice school. But it would be great if there were more parental involvement.
“We have a Gaelic school. That is an alternative provision. Could we not have the alternatives as well? It seems other countries help parents with alternative provision. We have a Montessori school in Edinburgh but they are private schools. We don’t feel it is fair.”
Cerdan said the council had been “extremely helpful” and was taking their views on board. However, it is understood the council is focused primarily on resolving the pressure on numbers in the city’s Southside. Council chiefs are therefore thought unlikely to be sympathetic to an “alternative” model.
However, educational reformers are arguing that Scotland must reform its system. The Commission on School Reform, led by former education authority chief Keir Bloomer, said the system was “too uniform”.
The lack of diversity had led to a “very consistent” level of education, he added, but one that “levelled down” the overall achievement.
One head said the current system led to a “debilitating culture of disempowerment” with school leaders unable to take control of their own set-up as they saw fit.
Speaking to a conference last week, Cameron, a former president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said: “Surely if we are building on shared values and a genuine commitment then we have the opportunity to liberate people to make change rather than constantly feel we have to constantly compel, drill and drive.”
He added: “Sometimes our hierarchies seem as rigid as the caste system. It reflects very little of 21st-century living.”
Edinburgh City Council said a new school would be required in the Southside. Paul Godzik, education convener for the council, added: “However, any new school delivered by the City of Edinburgh Council will sit firmly within the local authority system.”
He added: “We believe that parental engagement in Edinburgh’s schools is good, and we have recently introduced a renewed parental engagement strategy to strengthen it further. For the first time this included the appointment of a parental representative to sit on the council’s education committee, which already has two teacher representatives. This partnership between the local authority, schools and parents is central to our approach.”
Last month, education secretary Mike Russell said there were no “failing” schools in Scotland but warned that some were “coasting”.