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Annual parents' meetings must not be downgraded

Bob Doe's challenging piece on the annual parents' meeting (TES, March 1) deserves a response. There are two points at issue. First, the question of whether these meetings are worth holding as they have largely "failed to fulfil the purpose envisaged for them" as the Secondary Heads Association suggests. Second, the challenge that governors, through their representative groups, fail to offer a coherent view of their position.

Research carried out at the University of Birmingham for the Department for Education in 1992 set out to investigate the current state of the annual parents meeting which was, even then, conventionally understood to be a barren exercise greeted with much apathy. The work also investigated the potential of the meeting for positive dialogue between parents and schools.

This, of course, is the crux of the matter, for it is the generation of a positive public dialogue between schools and parents which is so badly needed - and which is so difficult to achieve. The evidence from the research did indeed confirm poor attendance but it did not confirm apathy among parents. Rather there was a misunderstanding of the role of the meeting which was - not surprisingly - misconceived as a "shareholders'" business meeting.

The point must be reinforced that the annual parents' meeting is the only formal "braking" mechanism whereby governors must discharge accountability to parents for their duties and responsibilities. To suggest governing bodies develop links with parents "in their own way" with the right to call a meeting as a "safety valve" completely misunderstands the importance of developing the positive public dialogue - and relegates the opportunity before us to a tool of crisis management.

In a professional world which has for so long been private and closed, the opportunity now to develop shared agreements with parents about our schools and their development is crucial. Parents do want the opportunity to become more involved in decisions about their children's schools but what they lack - in the absence of a strong public culture - is the confidence and the skills to converse in a public arena. Not to attempt this culture change would be mistaken.

Action for Governors' Information and Training (AGIT) has continued to offer guidance to governors on the annual report to parents and the annual parents' meeting regarding both as important pieces of the reform of school governance.

JANE MARTIN AGIT management committee co AGIT Coventry

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