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Break up unhealthy PTA clique

Joan Sallis answers your questions

I am a community governor and am sad to say our Parent Teacher Association now seems to be doing more harm than good. There had always been a half-termly forum where any parents (all automatically members) could raise issues with the head or senior staff. It was constructive, and minor grumbles got dealt with.

Then a new head took the old-fashioned view that the PTA was there to support and raise funds, not discuss policy. He banned forum meetings from the school, several good people resigned and the PTA became dominated by the sort who did things his way. It became exclusive and unresponsive to parents' concerns.

Now the head regrets what happened and wants the PTA to be more open again.

But we have no idea how to set about improving things.

It isn't unknown for PTAs to go through this sort of trauma but often a head has had something to do with it. Let me say first that the head had no authority to restrict the use of the school - use of the premises is governors' responsibility.

If a clique has taken over you'll have to work with them until confidence is restored. At least try to re-establish the forum and reiterate that all parents are members of the PTA and can raise any issue.

You can help by making sure that any governors who attend a forum are ready to report on any non-confidential matters of interest before governors. The more communicative you - including the head - are on school policies the more the PTA will extend its interest and support, I assure you.

The governing body can move things along by asking the PTA from time to time for views on current issues, and by parent-governors being more proactive in their contacts with other parents. I bet that even fund-raising has been less successful since forums stopped.

You may find it strange to be backing and promoting an organisation that has become narrow in its aims and social reach, but, now that your head realises the need for it to be given a voice, I am sure this is the way forward, given that the constitution still allows everything you want to see happen.

It will be hard going, especially getting more parents to put themselves forward for office. But this will be helped by more reaching out by the governing body and especially parent members, whose reputations may have been damaged by recent events.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 32023205, or see www.tes.co.uk governorsask_the_expert

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