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It's a jolly poor show

In an open letter to Estelle Morris, a primary head says it is time to wipe the annual parents' meeting off the agenda.

Dear Estelle, Could I have a word with you about the governors' annual parents' meeting? We've just had ours.

We had prepared a really swish report, with lots of lovely graphs and charts, explanations of the school improvement plan and a jolly note from the chair welcoming everybody to the meeting. We tied up the photocopier for the day running off the thousands of sheets needed and dispatched them to the eager recipients.

For weeks in advance, our newsletters reminded everybody of the annual meeting, while governors and staff buttonholed parents in the playground, just in case they had missed the date.

The big day arrived.

The staff were all keyed up and ready to perform. We had prepared a stunning PowerPoint presentation, chock-full of colourful slides illustrating our soaring national test results and how one could help one's child to do even better. Trays of canapes, sausages on sticks and tempting beverages were laid out.

The parent who attended was most impressed.

Am I sounding a tad cynical? Let us examine the facts. We are a modestly-sized rural primary school. When we were bottom of the county league tables four years ago, almost nobody came to the annual meeting. This year we were celebrating all-round improvement, with 92 per cent of 11-year-olds achieving the expected standard in English, 100 per cent in science.

Our annual report was proudly adorned with our achievement award logo. All this, it might be added, in a school with more than 40 per cent on the special educational needs register.

Nevertheless, as I have said, only one parent graced the meeting. In addition, there were three members of our home-school association who came along to serve the things on sticks. Another dad dropped in halfway through. A quick estimate of the cost of this jolly, in terms of staff hours and materials, was pound;900. We managed to budget just pound;2,000 for maths expenditure this year.

The teaching staff, who still have no right under law to attend the annual general meeting, stayed at school from their arrival at 8am to the end of the meeting at 9pm. (For most, a double journey home is just too far.) They were prepared to put in a 13-hour day to support their school. They often do. Those that are still left in the profession that is.

Let's face it, this is the picture in most schools. Until recently, I was a parent-governor at a large and successful comprehensive. For the last AGM the school laid on a recital by the talented school orchestra to accompany the cheese and wine.

The 20-odd governors and numerous staff then spent the evening entertaining eight parents from a possible catchment of 2,500. Most had come to hear the orchestra and two excused themselves when the recital was over.

Perhaps the next "Wheeze of the Week", dreamed up by some desk-bound mandarin at the Department for Education and Skills, should be to draw up league tables of attendance at the annual meeting. We could then have fun naming and shaming those parents who have no desire to let the state of their child's school interrupt the weekly diet of soap.

I shouldn't joke, it will probably happen. Yes, I am cynical. What else might my staff and I, not to mention that willing but dwindling core of governors, have spent those valuable hours doing?

Lady Thatcher's original notion, that you could send in hit squads of mustard-keen parents to expose the hordes of revolutionary teachers abandoning the 3Rs in favour of Marxist indoctrination, has not really been borne out by the actuality. Might I respectfully suggest that it is time for a change?

The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is the head of a rural primary school in south-east England

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