22nd April 2005 at 01:00
It seems strange saying so after all these years, but as a deputy head of a comprehensive, I still have to say that we dread the retirement of cherished parent governors and the task of persuading others to replace them.

It is not an area of great deprivation, but we do lack a pool of educated professional people who feel confident about standing. We have a couple of decent council estates and large areas of modest private housing with mostly first-time buyers - overwhelmingly both parents working so "leisure time" is a joke - but I think other factors are the publicity given to teenage behaviour and the ridiculous stream of news about government initiatives and new kinds of school which put the subject of education increasingly beyond the understanding of outsiders - and many insiders! None of this affects us directly - it is, I hope, a well-run school with supportive, if not very active, parents and few serious problems. Have you any guidance to give?

Yes, I have, though none of it is new and it is not magic. It seems as though governance affairs are your responsibility as deputy, which is fine as long as you have the head's active support and willingness to try new strategies. The unspoken messages about attitudes towards governors'

affairs do get around and will inevitably be linked to the head. It follows that he or she has to be personally behind recruitment and known to treat governors' role seriously and deal with it well. A lot depends too on how existing governors present the work they do, its visibility and how they are valued.

I hope your LEA has not got tired of promoting governor recruitment centrally through events. For the rest you have to ask how much more visible your governing body could be. Are the outcomes of its discussions communicated? Is there any regular means for any parents' organisation you have to question governors and be told what is going on? In a secondary school I know there was an arrangement for a couple of governors in turn to attend all PTA committee meetings to report, to be questioned, and to listen, and when it lapsed for a while the effects were noticeable.

Do parents know of their right to see non-classified papers? Who their governors are? Does your head have a meeting with parents when elections loom to talk about how important representation is and the sort of things governors do?

It should always be emphasised that it is a job for ordinary, caring people and also that children benefit. Finally, can you let your outgoing parent governors (or at least one) write a letter to parents in their own hand saying how they have viewed the job and how important it is for "ordinary" parents to get involved. This, in manuscript preferably, should be photocopied and sent out as it is, asking for nominations. Everything depends on how existing governors are valued and treated. I cannot say this often enough.

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 where answers will appear

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