Joan Sallis answers governors' questions.
Our school is too full. It's nice to be popular but I seriously think that in the name of choice, we risk losing the quality which makes parents pick us. Everything is under pressure. Learning suffers, behaviour suffers, teachers are stressed. Every summer we are told that a further addition is to be made to our intake as the result of appeals. Can we do anything?
A heartfelt concern which I share. We all feel sorry for parents who don't get their first choice, but the legislation of the 1980s (filling schools to a maximum agreed capacity, budgets based on head counts, choice across LEA boundaries, appeals panels) seems to have put popular schools under pressure without, as far as one can see, giving choice to more parents overall. What it has done, however, is often to raise expectations unreasonably.
The law says clearly that the decisions of appeal panels are binding. When it gets to that stage, you can do nothing. At earlier stages, governors may have some influence. You are a county school, and you will therefore be consulted both about the LEA's admission criteria (treat this as a serious consultation and consider what factors in the policy affect the intake to your school) and your own standard number. If you think that is too high, look at it early in the process and make a case for reducing it.
It was said when the legislation was new that it was going to be a lot harder to get the limit lowered than raised, but I suspect the climate has changed somewhat. You should also be consulted about the actual number of initial offers the LEA makes for your school; at that stage you may have to do some guesswork based on the percentage drop-out, especially if you are in an area where a high proportion choose private schools, but put down a popular LEA school as an insurance. Perhaps you should make your guess a little more conservative when you contribute to that debate.
Make sure that the facts about the school's situation are put with conviction at the appeal. Although it isn't general practice, I think it is helpful if someone from the school concerned is present to give those facts - a senior staff member or a governor.
We have never had a problem getting teacher governors and have no reason to think we shall when both come up for re-election in the autumn. As a governor whose term has ended, I was therefore surprised when our head came into the staffroom and started to talk about the vacancies. I have since heard that he has been lobbying for certain teachers, asking them to stand and speaking for them to other members of staff. Neither I nor my erstwhile colleague was approached.
This is shocking and I hope your staff will have the sense to ignore and indeed discourage this interference. It is undesirable that the head should try to influence the process and even more undesirable that teacher governors should appear to have been elected with his patronage. I realise that you may find it hard to deal with, but your chair should ideally have a word with the head stressing that the staff must do their own choosing. The head may indeed find his intervention produces the opposite effect from that intended.