Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

As a parent governor, I think I was elected to look after parents' interests, and I am pleased to find that in this school the agenda includes a "parent governors' report". I deal with this, and get many contributions which may be general complaints about school policies, but often they concern individual children.

However, the head doesn't like my reports and says that I am not a complaints committee. She says the item was intended to be a short statement about general matters, such as the amount raised at the fete, or the good work done on decorating and the like in Saturday morning working parties. Is she within her rights?

The headteacher is correct in saying that the governing body is not the place to air parents' critical comments for the first time. Whether it is her job to correct you is another matter. I do not think it is proper for a head to try to dictate to governors how their meeting is handled. It would be better coming from the chair.

I think you may have misunderstood your role. If there is a slot of this kind on the agenda it would be reasonable to report on PTA and general parent activity, such as the head suggested and, perhaps, the reactions of parents to any important changes in school practice or rules, though these would only come up occasionally.

But it is wrong for parent governors to see themselves as carriers of individual complaints, which initially should not be channelled through governors at all. A good school will encourage parents to come in personally, and a good governing body will have a complaints policy. This will be made compulsory when the new Education Act comes into force in September 2003. But that will only cover matters which have already been brought to the head or another member of staff without reaching a satisfactory outcome.

Obviously, parents will approach their elected governors with all sorts of concerns, and occasionally there will be an outcry about some new practice which a conscientious governor will feel obliged to mention, but even this should not be sprung on the head without warning. That is inconsiderate and unlikely to get a good response. Warn her first, and ask for it to be put on the agenda if it can't readily be solved. No parent governor should become a postbox for individual complaints.

TES welcomes your queries, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum.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.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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