27th June 2003 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

Q: I am a new parent governor and seem to be in trouble already. Ours is the first stage of a brand new primary school. My two fellow parent governors are men and work in town so I get all the mums' concerns - quite a number now, and I try to represent them as best I can.

Sometimes I have to be a bit aggressive to find a place in the meeting where I can air their very natural worries. They are things like whether there is a qualified first-aider available; adequate midday supervision; open gates; dogs on site; when are there going to be hot lunches; how the children are arranged in tables (seems to be some kind of "streaming") and worries about individual children who may be timid and frightened of bullying, have some health or language problem or exceptional ability (of course).

I think it is my job to help. But I have had some clear vibes from the head and other governors that this is not the right place or time and that somehow I have got it wrong.

A: These are such familiar problems with new parent governors, especially those who are caring and conscientious - and brave as well.

First, please do not feel you have done anything which cannot be put right.

There are two issues here, one to do with queries (first aid, lunches, safety) which are general, legitimate and natural in the unusual circumstances, and these are definitely things which you have to find some way of airing.

The others - the child with health problems or fears - are the bread and butter of any parent governor's life but you must not try to bring them up at meetings. Hard though it is, you must say to parents: "I'm sorry, but the governors deal with school policies affecting all children, and if you have a concern about your own child you must take it up yourself with the head or class teacher. If it can't be solved to your satisfaction you may then complain formally to the governors, but there is no slot in the meeting for individual concerns."

Otherwise you will have no peace and you will be always in the doghouse with your governor colleagues for bringing up inappropriate things outside the agenda. Even legitimate governor business about safety, provision of lunches, first aid, and so on, must be programmed as an agenda item - do not be afraid to ask for this.

Your letter concerns me because it suggests that parents of this brand-new school have not been very well served on the information front. In the circumstances their concerns are natural and correct.

I am surprised that they are not brought together from time to time for information, reassurance and answers to general queries, that there is no time set aside when individual queries can be brought in, and that there is not a regular newsletter.

Perhaps you and your fellow parent governors could tactfully suggest these to the head (always act together where you can). In any case, you could ask for a short item on every agenda on progress in settling in, which would give answers to parents' questions and an opportunity to ask your own.

These days, parents rightly expect to be kept in the picture. Can you find a likely parent or group to start an association?

The TES welcomes your queries. But please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers.

Questions should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 32023205, or see our website:

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