1st September 2000 at 01:00
I AM a parent-governor. Recently I was in school talking to my child's class teacher (purely as an ordinary parent) about some problems my child has been having. He has a learning difficulty. I somehow wandered from the subject and referred to something that had been said at a governors' meeting about special needs provision. The teacher got very upset and touchy and ended the interview abruptly. I had clearly made her feel uncomfortable, as though I had been "pulling rank", which of course I wouldn't. There's been an "atmosphere" since.

It is natural for an inexperienced teacher to be sensitive if the border-line between parent and parent-governor becomes blurred when talking about a particular child. Often they don't know much about what governors do and may see them as threatening. I can well remember this from the time when my children were at school. Your teacher obviously thought you were giving her some kind of veiled warning about your influence, innocent though you were. It costs nothing to say sorry even if you have intended no hurt, and it would soon clear the air if you were to tell her that you were unwise to mention your governor role when you were there solely to talk about your son and certainly did not want to make her feel uncomfortable.

MY children are at a fee-paying school, which does, I know, have a governing body. I read your column and often can't relate what you say to the little I knowabout how our school is run. There seems to be no contact between the governing body and ordinary parents and I have no idea what they do.

It never occurred to me to make this clear because all my experience is in the state system. The law which I spend so much time clarifying applies only to publicly-maintained schools.

The governance of fee-paying schools is not so prescribed, though most will have some kind of regulatory body, depending on whether they are companies, charities or individually-owned. Although some of the relationship problems I deal with must produce echoes in the private sector, there is no requirement that they should have representatives of parents, teachers and the community, and the role of governors is by comparison limited and their contact with parents and staff more remote.

This is a generalisation and I am sure I shall instantly be taken to task by independent school governors who see their role as very hands-on and vital to the school, which I do not deny. They fulfil the role of any body of trustees, keeping the school true to the policies of its founders and ensuring it is honestly and efficiently run, as well as taking a general interest in the progress of its pupils and the maintenance of its reputation.

It would not be appropriate for such schools to have the closely regulated supervision of spending and standards which apply when public money is involved.

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