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Publicity and planning draw the crowds

Attendance and participation can be encouraged by: * Campaign: let parents know about the annual meeting in the school calendar, in newsletters, on signs in the playground, by advertising in the press and on radio and by announcements at public occasions such as school plays and parents' evenings. Parents who learn the date of the annual meeting only through reading the governors' annual report may have just two weeks' notice, which may not be sufficient.

* Avoid clashes with other local school, civic or national events. Don't overload parents with an overwhelming array of school focused events, including the annual meeting, all within the space of two to three weeks. Liaison with other local schools' events calendars would be helpful: after all, many parents have children at more than one school.

* Make it sound like you want parents to attend by a warmly worded invitation - it is not necessary to write "In accordance with the 1986 (No 2) Education Act" as a preface to your invitation.

* Outline the purposes of the meeting.

* Avoid officiousness: just because it is legally required does not mean it has to be formally run. Create an atmosphere in which an open but business-like discussion may be held. The meeting must be chaired by a governor, but not necessarily by the chairman of governors who may not be, whatever their other talents, effective at large public events.

* Pay attention to courtesies. Welcome parents as they arrive. Governors' name badges help break the ice. Make sure you sign parents in just in case the meeting is quorate for resolution purposes - not that passing resolutions is an indication necessarily of a successful meeting.

* Lay out the room to encourage participation - long halls with governors at the front behind a table, and parents scattered throughout sets up a potentially hostile situation; cosy semi-circular arrangements work best.

* Time your annual meeting for mid-way through the autumn term: summer meetings potentially disenfranchise a whole cohort of new parents while others no longer have an interest in the school, however wonderful it is.

* Issue an agenda, inviting written questions in advance.

* Let parents know that you genuinely seek to use the occasion to celebrate, to involve and to consult.

* Let parents know what the governors do for the school, what your plans are, the nitty-gritty of topical issues: involve them in your decision making; make it a genuine consultation, not a news broadcast.

* Provide some form of child-minding facility to spare parents the expense of baby sitters.

* Provide hospitality appropriate to circumstances: wine and nibblestea and cakes.

* Make the meeting child-focused and education centred; do not clutter it with an irrelevant speaker who, however well-meaning, would be unlikely to fill a school hall.

* Re-read the short Department for Education and Employment booklet, The Annual Parents' Meeting - Chore or Challenge? (published May 1993).

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