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Crowded out by 18 enthusiasts

It is generally accepted that the annual meeting for governors and parents has been successful if the latter outnumber the former. By that criterion, our meeting this year was an outstanding success. Eighteen parents attended, as opposed to three last year, from just over 100 families using our small primary.

This must be due, in part, to the high media profile education has acquired recently, but most parents admitted it was my letter, demanding their attendance rather than requesting it politely, that had done the trick. "I didn't dare not come," one of them confessed.

Not only did they come, they came prepared to listen, ask questions and express their opinions. One lady signalled her readiness for a long session when she arrived clutching a large pink cushion to soften our unwelcoming chairs.

We had sent out a reply slip with the invitation letter, with space for people to identify topics for discussion. Predictably, class sizes were high on the agenda, with the inevitable follow-up question "If we are so short of money, why don't we go grant-maintained?" We explained the temporary and illusory nature of the benefits, set against the isolation from other schools and the increased responsibilities for governors. Better stick together and fight for more money for all schools.

I was particularly keen to promote the idea of using parent power to push for better funding, having just attended an inaugural meeting of the local FACE (Fight Against Cuts in Education). Apparently they were going to call the campaign "Fight Unfair Cuts for Kids" but wiser counsels prevailed.

The successes of the campaigns against the poll tax and the privatisation of the Post Office were cited as examples of the effectiveness of mass lobbying of MPs and large-scale public demonstrations. We need parents for sheer weight of numbers, and we can only involve them by coming clean about the dire effects cuts are having.

Competition between schools for pupils has made individual heads and governing bodies unwilling to admit to problems, but if the situation and the causes of it are explained fully, most parents will rally to support their school. The parents at our annual meeting certainly did. How many of them rushed home to write to their MP as instructed is another matter.

Other topics were music in the school, and more able children. When we were writing our special needs policy this year, we committed ourselves to providing for the high-flyers as well as those with difficulties.we have squeezed a little money out of the budget to buy in a specialist teacher for groups of very able children.

Money from a local charity provided special needs resources, and we hope to go back to them this year for funding for musical instruments. CD-Rom is within our grasp too, thanks to the amazing fund-raising efforts of parents.

Class arrangements for next year were discussed, criticised and condemned. Can anyone out there think of a way of dividing 165 children in seven year groups (Reception to Year 6) between five teachers without vertical grouping or splitting year groups? Perhaps we could make it a competition for Saturday's summer fair, 50p a go and a small prize for the best solution.

Someone raised the interesting question of why we have no men on our staff. My explanation that the male staff toilet was needed by the women as a place to store their bikes and running gear was accepted as perfectly reasonable.

The meeting lasted more than two hours, with many parents staying on for coffee and a chat. I think they may even come back next year.

* Have you had a particularly successful annual meeting? If so, please tell us about it. Write to Bob Doe, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY

Joan Dalton is a governor in the East Midlands

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