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Make it all right on the night

Terry Mahoney says the much maligned annual parents' meeting should be one of the highlightsof the year. Yet again the annual parents' meeting is raising passions. The National Association of Governors and Managers has promised to "oppose to the death" a call by the Secondary Heads Association's to abolish these meetings (TES March 1).

And yet, if the purposes of the annual meeting are realised, it can be one of the highlights of the school year.

The purpose of annual meetings is to provide an opportunity for discussion of not only the Governors' report, but also the way the governing body, the headteacher, and the local authority have met their duty to the school. It is an important educational event and SHA cannot wish it away, even if most annual meetings do not lived up to expectations.

Increasing parental involvement, easier access to information and greater accountability - the major themes of education legislation since the mid 1980s - should come together in the annual meeting.

Furthermore, research on school effectiveness shows home-school partnerships, getting parents involved in their children's work and in the life of the school, are vital to raising expectations and achievement. The annual meeting is just one feature of such a partnership and should be intimately linked with a school's communications or public relations policy.

That annual meetings have failed to excite is due to a misunderstanding of their purpose and lack of imagination. The annual meeting is not an annual general meeting nor an annual governors' meeting for parents, but an annual parents' meeting. It provides the opportunity for consultation and debate with parents about educational issues; a chance to seek their views and for them to help the school formulate plans.

However, while it has the potential of being forward looking, it tends still to be viewed by many heads, governors, and others, as a limited, backward-looking affair.

The resentment of recent educational changes still lingers in the profession and annual meetings tend to suffer from that. Back in 1987 when the annual meeting was born, the educational press carried headlines such as "Hoping for support but braced for rotten eggs" and "NUT calls on parents to boycott school meetings". Teachers feared, with good reason, that such meetings might be the forum for attacking individuals, though of course teachers are not actually entitled to attend such meetings unless they are teacher governors at the school or are invited to attend.

Annual meetings have failed because too much emphasis is often put on discussion of the governors' annual report. It should be an important focus but one which could, legitimately, be over within 15 minutes or so. Parents have better things to do than spend precious evenings discussing a backward-looking report, however entertaining and readable.

Some headteachers or governing bodies may even encourage this deliberately to avoid more open discussion of what is happening in the school or due to happen in the year ahead. Some may even contrive a low attendance to avoid awkward questioning.

More open governing bodies understand that this is an important occasion when they hold themselves accountable to parents, seek feedback on their performance to date and listen to views on priorities for the future.

TES2 APRIL 26 1996

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