19th May 1995 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions. Like many other schools at this time of year we are planning our annual meeting with parents.

We expect big numbers because parents are dissatisfied with the poor performance in modern languages and a change in options - which encourages a balanced curriculum but makes it harder for high-flyers to choose a heavy academic diet.

We are under pressure to put these matters on the agenda and expect questions and resolutions. The head says that the object of the meeting is to discuss governors' work as set out in the report, and since the delivery of the curriculum is a professional responsibility, it falls outside that work. He wants us to rule these subjects out of order.

A policy of monumental folly. The sad thing is that this parent feeling should have been faced long ago and any frustration now is bound to inflame it further.

The simple answer is that no general issue concerning the running of the school is outside the scope of the annual meeting. The law is quite specific on this point.

Even matters which are genuinely not governors' responsibility may be raised (and poor performance in any subject, and the curriculum choices, without question are governors' concern and should not have been ducked in the report).

The governors draw up the agenda for the meeting and, in my view, it would be wise to include any legitimate subject for which there is a big demand. But whatever you decide on that, you cannot properly block discussion or resolutions at the meeting.

It is a great pity that you, as governors, were not allowed to help the school explain and justify major changes in the options before they were announced.

Many comprehensive school parents with traditional expectations, for instance, regard broad and balanced science as a dilution (associating it with secondary modern schools in the days of selection), think technology is a waste of time for the highly academic and that creative subjects are best pursued, if at all, in leisure time.

This may make you squirm, as it does me, but you can't ignore it. Many of the changes can be explained in terms of the law, and by reference to repeated statements of HMI that the curriculum should embrace all the main areas of experience.

There is so much reassurance that can be given and I remember over the years the splendid job the parent governors, especially, in our own school have done - also warning now and then that parent opinion was not yet ready for a particular change which was not legally required.

As for the under-performance, this will be more difficult because both the school's own discussion and parent questioning are likely to stray into the competence of individual teachers. You must not allow this at the meeting.

Having said that, the main thing is to convince parents that the school is not sweeping the subject under the mat and is actively investigating all aspects of the problem - resourcing, organisation, pupil grouping, syllabus and teaching strength. They do not need and probably don't want the detail, and you can reasonably withhold it on the ground that it isn't fair to broadcast what can only be working hypotheses.

From experience, I would say that even in a straightforward case of alleged problems with an individual teacher, the really maddening thing for parents is stonewalling. They only need to know that your school is constantly watchful about teacher quality and has procedures for tackling problems.

I can only suggest that you allow full discussion at the meeting and promise to note and consider all the points made on modern languages. On the options, you must prepare your ground really well so as to speak convincingly on the reasons for change and the limited scope the school has within national policies for doing what parents want.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200

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