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Parent governor lost in sea of curriculum

AS a fairly new parent governor I am still confused. At first I saw the role as an extension of my parent-teacher association work, supporting the school and bringing up parents' worries. I now know I must not use my role to bring in individual complaints, but only try to get general things brought up.

But I still feel all at sea about the curriculum and our role on the teaching side, especially as it is a big comprehensive and has a far wider programme than in my day. We are not kept out of this and have regular papers about the curriculum, different teaching techniques, and endless analyses of our results. Apart from feeling unsure if I have a contribution to make, why are we getting into these deep waters at all?

WHEN I first got involved I was amazed to find that governors had, on paper at least, the responsibility for the "general direction" of the curriculum over a century ago. It was explained precisely in some very old reports (mid-Victorian) that the "how" of the curriculum was the head's role but the "what" was definitely governors' territory. But of course by the time the system was reformed in the 1980s, these powers had largely become a dead letter - if indeed they had ever been taken up.

It is very different now. The Education Act of 2002 is clear that the conduct of the school is "under the direction of the governing body" and that the aim is to improve its academic standards. It is the latter which is now a core responsibility, and with all the emphasis on this it is inevitable that you get a great deal of information on what was always in effect (whatever the law said) treated as professional territory.

There is one distinction that we must all make as school governors, however, and that is that the day-by-day management of the school, the organisation of classes and the timetable, the choice of teaching techniques and materials, the management of teachers and the improvement of their professional skills, is still the preserve of professionals.

What we are responsible for is the framework of general policy within which the school works. We influence this indirectly through many things we do - budget, choice of senior staff, behaviour guidelines of a general character and other specific policies, and assessing the headteacher annually. Monitoring standards means setting targets in agreement with the staff, keeping an eye on the general balance of subjects and approving major changes, and trying to ensure that the school has the means and facilities to do what has been agreed.

This inevitably means reading a lot about what seems professional territory, since we cannot make meaningful decisions without understanding.

In particular, you need analysis of the results in their context, accounting for the social character of the intake, past performance, and all the factors in a school which affect results. This last task is often complex - ask questions if you don't understand. Also, try to observe some lessons from time to time - to learn, not to judge.

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 0171 782 32023205, or see

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