18th August 2000 at 01:00
I'm a new parent governor. Already it seems to me we get all kicks and no ha'pence. We are kept out of sensitive activities on the grounds that our child is in that class, or we live in that street or something else that sounds equally like an excuse. We get a lot of criticism for taking up time with parents' complaints, for bringing our own children into everything, for not being interested in things that are not imminent, and are generally made to feel like a nuisance. What are our rights and what makes a good parent governor? Am I unreasonable to expect my share of the action and a bit of appreciation?

I don't know about appreciation - governors rarely get much of that - but you are certainly entitled to expect your share of the action.

All governors - apart from a few restrictions on people who work in the school - are equally entitled to contribute. The kind of reasons given for excluding you from particular tasks seem to me feeble. I believe that in many schools parent governors get the worst of any stick that's going. Indeed some heads responding to a recent survey picked them out as being especially problematic.

It's only fair to say that I've also been told by many heads that parents are the heart of their governing bodies, caring more, doing the lion's share of the work, being good ambassadors.

I'd be the first to agree that many new parent goernors make innocent but tiresome mistakes. Some may think they can achieve things on their own, not realising that nothing can be changed except by the governing body acting as one. Others may not understand that governors can be effective only at a strategic level and are not there to check up on what goes on in the classroom, the playground or the office. Many may see the governing body as a sort of complaints committee and waste its time with streams of individual concerns which ought to go directly to the head or teacher. Most start by seeing the school through the eyes of their children and find it hard to get the big picture in focus. A few have the bad habit of springing things on the head without warning at a meeting.

Remember these things, but don't compromise on your right to listen to parents' general concerns and raise them when relevant agenda items are being discussed. If necessary propose such items. Ensure that you get your "share of the action" by asking your fellow governors to support you, rejecting trivial reasons for excluding you. You only need withdraw from discussion if there is some special reason which would cast doubts on your impartiality, and you most certainly may serve on a selection panel for an appointment if your fellow governors choose you. In short, you are a full and equal governor. But do watch the beginners' mistakes.

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