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New, improved...but will it work?

Let's be honest, we skimped on the annual report to parents last year. Our priority was to revamp the prospectus and we gave a deal great of thought and care to the content, layout and presentation. We commissioned drawings from the children and scattered them about in all available empty spaces. The children's portraits of the staff were particularly charming - made them look quite human. The result was an attractive, accessible booklet which we were proud to give to prospective parents, and which we felt gave an accurate reflection of the atmosphere and style of the school.

Then the minute we had finished, it was time to write the annual report, and we had run out of time, energy and enthusiasm. I still had the 1993 report on computer file. A minor tweak here and there, dates and pupil numbers changed, and well, it would do, wouldn't it? After all, no one reads the wretched thing, They certainly do not come to the meeting to discuss it.

But we knew we were not doing ourselves justice, and promised ourselves this year that we would junk the old format and come to the whole thing fresh.

Our local education authority provides an excellent resource centre for governors, and governing bodies are encouraged to file copies of school policies and annual reports for the benefit of others. So my first move was to read the reports from other small primaries like ours.

The variations were striking - anything from a couple of lines on each of the compulsory items to comprehensive reviews of every aspect of school life. Many bore the giveaway signs of the year-on-year re-hash - most sections beginning with the tell-tale words: "We continueI", "We maintainI", "Our annualI", All were positive and reassuring. Problems? What problems?

Parents at our school receive regular newsletters written by the head. They know how the football team is doing and what a success the Christmas concert was. The annual report should primarily be about what governors have been doing, and goodness knows there is plenty to report this year. The difficulty lies in reporting the intricacies of health and safety policy. Collective worship and staff discipline and grievance policies sound interesting.

Why do we need policies anyway? No, not just to show OFSTED: the underlying theme is equality of opportunity, for job applicants, children with special needs, staff with grievances, children from different religious backgrounds, parents with complaints. We need clear guidelines to ensure consistency of response, this year we have made a lot of progress in this direction .

Next year, we will focus on the curriculum. The staff are hard at work on new policy statements and schemes of work for all subject areas, and we plan a series of workshops for parents and governors.

Budgeting is the really crucial issue, of course. With average class sizes at 31 this year, and set to rise over the next 12 months, we need to convince the parents that it's not our fault, and that they can help us do something about it. The latest complete figures we have are for the financial year April 1993-94.

The LEA will not provide us with a complete balance sheet for the last financial year until September. Like many governors, I am aware of Joan Sallis looking over my shoulder as I write the financial report, and the telling phrase "there is no participation in the past" rings in my ears. We will include this current year's budget intentions instead and talk about 1996 and beyond, rather than 1993.

The report we produced is informative, honest, forward-looking and challenging. Bet they still don't come to the meeting.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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