16th April 2004 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

Q: I don't have any problem with parent representation on governing bodies within reason. Parents are our consumers and they have a right to a voice.

But no one would deny that their perception of the school is partial and often they are preoccupied with short-term objectives or even concerned primarily with their own children. As a head it is my duty to plan strategically for the long-term needs of the school, and that needs a balanced and largely detached body of governors to support me. Elected parent governors are one thing (by the way, is it true that we may soon have more?). But I do object when long-serving parents reappear as community governors, or are appointed by the LEA as soon as there are vacancies, and even one of our teacher governors was a parent until recently. Surely parent power has gone mad?

A: The governing body is also responsible for strategic planning! On your main point, rightly or wrongly, governments of all parties since the Taylor report was published in 1977 have accepted that report's recommendation that parents should play a major part in school governance. They are seen as the most direct stake-holders in the education service, though there is general agreement that balance requires the representation of staff, of the school's providers - church or LEA - and representatives of the wider community as well. There has never been any restriction on candidates who are eligible to serve as elected parent governors serving in another capacity either. Early legislation gave parents a quarter of seats, but as you observe they often appear in other guises.

You are also correct in saying that current legislation has increased the target representation to one third, and there is still no restriction on their serving in other categories, though teachers are now so restricted. I think your view is an extreme one. Most governing bodies welcome the direct experience and commitment of their parent members: the incidence of co-option when their elected service ends shows they are valued by colleagues.

It is true that when lacking experience they are sometimes narrow in their aspirations for the school, but in my observation they soon become very much aware of the range of children's needs and problems, and are indeed passionately concerned about special needs, which is to me one of the great triumphs of the democratisation of governance.

They are generally committed and hard-working, and there are instances of schools where they play a major part in the governing body's work.

It is up to all of us to keep the focus broad and aims inclusive and far-seeing. We do after all have influence on the non-elective appointments, directly on co-options, indirectly on the members provided by the LEA.

Remember, however, that in some areas it isn't easy to find community governors without looking to the parent body, and that the LEA sometimes has difficulties too now that appointment on party lines is becoming rarer.

At least let us make sure we have people with knowledge and commitment in these cases. But I agree we should be conscious of the need for balance - perhaps trying a bit harder to find talent in the community - and also as colleagues encouraging a broad view of the school's needs in all we say and do.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 32023205, or see governorsask_ the_expert where answers to submitted questions will appear

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