30th January 2004 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

I often read your column and was dismayed by your comments in "Undemocratic head thinks he knows the law" (TES, January 2), about holding annual parents' meetings, which were just plain wrong.

In response to yet another ineffectual and inadequate governor, you unfairly and maliciously criticise the headteacher and accuse him or her of breaking the law and being undemocratic.

If a governor has a concern about any aspect of school life they should raise it at a meeting where it can be discussed by all. The governors then have an opportunity to vote and make a democratic decision. You, however, seem to be preoccupied with complaints from governors who have not had their own way in meetings or have failed to raise points in the proper way.

Governors have a powerful role in the democratic operation of our country's education system. It is an important leadership role which needs to be done well. Week after week your column appears to allow those entrusted by the community with the running of schools to absolve themselves of their responsibilities and to unfairly, and without any supporting evidence, blame everyone but themselves for their inadequacies and failures.

You make some good points. I certainly agree with you about governors' powerful role in our country's education system. I thought that my main aim was to help them to exercise it in the face of what my postbag shows to be considerable obstruction in a few cases by those who have the power to bypass them or withhold the information they need to play that role properly.

I don't presume to think these are typical, and I know there are many heads who accept the democratic role of governors and facilitate their participation. I know many of the latter and honour their contribution. But it's not their governors who write to me. It's the few who have tried in vain to secure participatory government who are motivated to write.

I respect you for emphasising how things ought to be and I'm sure those are the principles you live by, but unfortunately there are dark places in the system. I often spend a lot of time telling governors that they can't achieve anything on their own and that only the governing body acting together has any authority.

I have no more sympathy than you with the correspondent who is asleep half the time, doesn't attend regularly or read all the papers, and then grumbles about what has been done in his or her name. And I never knowingly encourage any correspondent who has not tried to get the problem aired in the whole governing body or who is merely piqued about not getting his or her way in open debate.

In the few cases where I suggest that the head may have been high-handed there has been no evidence that the governors even knew what was happening until it was too late. Control of information is a serious obstacle to real democracy which we have not yet overcome Meanwhile, I go on being grateful for the headteachers who take the governor role seriously. But even among these there are many who don't like annual parents' meetings, wish the Government had simply abolished them, and try to find any loopholes by which they can be avoided. I think that was the case in the letter you referred to, at least on the information I was given.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX Fax 0207 782 3202, or see governorsask_ the_ expert where answers to submitted questions will appear

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