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Talking to parents must not be shirked

And so we say a fond farewell to the annual governors' report to parents and to the annual parents' meeting and . . . Well, maybe not. While few schools needed police to control the crowds on such occasions, some made a real success of the annual meeting. How else does a governing body make itself accountable to the community?

Many schools treated writing the report as a bureaucratic burden - and then blamed parents for not turning up! Schools usually claimed that parents didn't come because they were so happy with the school or because they were "apathetic". Governing bodies that held the Government and parents responsible for their own failures did the concept of community ownership of schools a grave disservice. The schools which entered The TES competition for the best report showed how successful an annual parents'

consultation could be.

Some already treat the consultation with parents as the first step in revising and updating the school improvement plan. A primary in Somerset meets parents to talk about the ups and downs of the previous school year and what might be done better in the next. Later, all governors and staff get together to share ideas, so that the head can prepare a draft improvement plan.

Ofsted's expectations of schools in completing the self-evaluation form may turn out to be far more onerous than the annual parents' evening. Look at section 2 of the form and remember that it is the governors who sign it off: What are the views of learners, parentscarers and other stakeholders, and how do you know? What do these views have to tell you about learners'

standards, personal development and well-being, and the quality of your provision? How do you share these views? Can you give examples of action you have taken with an evaluation of the effectiveness of what you did?

A regular meeting with parents should probably be an element of that process. But schools need to be adopting strategies such as focus groups, interviews with cross-sections of parents and students, newsletters with facilities for responses. And there needs to be a regular formal gathering of views through a structured survey.

The new arrangements may prove more rigorous, time-consuming and expensive - but even more rewarding. We should get a clearer picture of how parents and learners see us, and they should get a clearer picture of what we are trying to achieve - making us far more accountable to the communities we serve.

Nigel Gann Nigel Gann is an education consultant

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