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Joan Sallis Answers your questions

I am not yet very confident about my role as a parent governor vis-...-vis other parents, some of whom think that because they voted for me they are due regular insiders' reports on what has been happening or answers to questions about things that have involved their own children. I am also unsure how much I ought to say.

This is a big question and often bothers new governors, parents particularly, because they are always in the line of fire when out and about. The first thing to say is that you are not there as an advocate or a union rep for particular families (whether or not they voted for you) and in general parents are expected to conduct their own dialogue with the appropriate staff about their children's progress and behaviour. Second, governors' business is not usually confidential, except for items classified as such (on these keep your counsel scrupulously). On issues not so classified you are free to report decisions made, but you should confine yourself to decisions and never report what individuals said or how they voted, or indeed gossip of any kind. But the most important thing to remember is that you have been elected to provide a parent's viewpoint on a wide range of issues which come before governors and to try as far as possible to bring the interests of all parents to bear on the school's decisions and policies.

This may sometimes mean sounding out parents to help you decide what line to take and how to vote. Remember also that you are not a delegate either, and have to make up your mind what option is best for parents as a whole when there are choices to be made. What you can sometimes helpfully do when many parents are concerned about some decision by governors which affects all children is explain the background and the reasons why a particular decision was made.

You may also be able to give reasons for existing school policies especially those which particularly affect some categories of children, dispelling any idea that individuals are being targeted. You may well have to consider some decision affecting everybody which some won't like, whether it's dropping a subject from exam choices, forbidding items to be brought into school, moving a teacher, or changing the rules in some way, but if it is in the interests of the majority you will just have to say so and explain why.

There is one reason why you should keep to generalities and avoid getting drawn into an issue about the behaviour or treatment of a child. That is that you may at some time have to represent the governing body on an exclusion appeal or vote on a relevant policy, and you must be detached.

There is no reason why the governing body as a whole should not meet parents' associations to hear their concerns and report on general issues under discussion. Indeed there is a lot to be said for encouraging such contact: it avoids misunderstanding and counteracts misinformation. Wise heads will encourage such dialogue for these reasons. I have found nothing but good comes from open discussion of things that worry parents and I wish more heads accepted this.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202,or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expertwhere answers will appear

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