9th April 2004 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

We have a head who is very defensive and overreacts to criticism. A family has been corresponding with the school for many weeks about alleged unfair treatment of their child by one teacher, but until now we had no details.

Now the family has written to our chair saying that the replies have been unsatisfactory and they wish us to take the matter further. The head, who was sent a copy of the letter, has said that the complaint has been answered, that a reply was sent long ago, the matter is closed, and there is no need for governors to be involved. We were not sent copies of any correspondence, so how can we judge whether there is a case to answer? Should we have been sent previous correspondence and especially the reply sent by the head?

You certainly should have seen all the correspondence and especially the latest exchange. You cannot possibly judge whether there is a case to answer otherwise. The whole point of a complaints procedure - which all schools must now have by law - is to provide an independent investigation when the parents are not satisfied with the school's response. The letter to your chair must clearly be considered a complaint to be investigated under this procedure (does yours not make this clear? It may need a fresh look). It is not up to the head to say whether or not there is a case to answer.

I hope you will go ahead without delay - although I am not prejudging the case. You may well be persuaded that it has been treated in a satisfactory way and that you should uphold what the school has said. But you must investigate.

You might also need to revisit your complaints procedure. It should at least make it clear that any parent has a right to challenge the initial response from the school and that the head cannot prevent governors from investigating on request.

Is it true that the school no longer has to have an annual parents'

meeting? Our head says changes in the law have made it unnecessary.

This is not quite true. The legal requirement still stands but there are regulations which set out circumstances in which it may be waived. You should ask your local education authority for copies of the regulations on exceptions. Broadly speaking, a school will not be obliged to arrange a meeting if there has been an occasion fairly recently, either in connection with an Ofsted inspection or otherwise, when all parents have been invited to a meeting at which all aspects of the running of the school were open for discussion. A school may also be excused if a letter to parents asking whether they would attend a meeting has had less than a prescribed small number of acceptances.

An annual report giving a wide range of information is still statutory but it is now possible to combine it with the prospectus. This can only be a very general reply, but I can assure you that there has been no backtracking on giving parents information and the opportunity to meet and ask questions about any aspect of the running of the school.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for all readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. 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 the_expert where answers will appear

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