12th March 2004 at 00:00
We need a new parent governor, but the notice that goes out is so formal that it must be very daunting for ordinary people, many of whom I'm sure could do the job and would enjoy it. Do we have to accept the official form of words? Last time we had no response the first time, and a very poor one after that.

As long as a school informs everybody and abides by the actual election procedures, it is up to the head with the existing governing body to approach parents in whatever terms seem suitable.

I agree with you that official letters can be very daunting in an area where few people have professional employment. There are even places where a typed letter of any sort can be bad news. I make no apology for repeating an idea I came across in one school. The outgoing parent governor wrote a letter in her own hand to parents (which the head copied and sent just as it was) encouraging people to put their names forward, saying what she had managed to achieve during her term of office and how interesting it had been. This encouraged other parents to believe that the job was not daunting but indeed was intended for typical parents at the school in question.

I think attracting parent governors may go deeper than this, however. They report very varied experiences of treatment within the governing body and by the head. In my latest collection of these Agenda pieces (to be published shortly) you will be amazed to find how many parent governors write that they have had difficulties getting parent issues dealt with.

It's true that they sometimes misunderstand their role, getting too involved with purely personal problems or not recognising the line between governance and day-by-day school management. But even where they have behaved in an exemplary fashion they sometimes have trouble getting even general questions of interest to parents on the agenda.

They have been told that they are not there to represent parents at all; or been informed that all governors' business is confidential. These are not the ways to attract good representatives.

The issue goes even wider than this. Problems recruiting parent governors often indicate that the governing body as a whole is not doing a real job or that its visibility within the school is low. It is important not only to ensure that the governing body is doing its job but also that parents in general are kept in touch. They need to know where they can look at minutes and papers and be given news from time to time about specific matters on which the governing body have achieved some success.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see

governorsask_the_expert where all questions to Ask-the-Expert will appear

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