At any time we have at least two or three parent-governor vacancies. As a parent-governor, I think it is a shame as we waited a long time for proper representation. It is not a particularly deprived neighbourhood - not a lot of high-level professionals but plenty of sensible people who would be good governors. I enjoy it but it would be good to have people to share jobs. We have the usual problems of any secondary, and the governing body is one way of increasing parents' support and awareness of what they can do to help.
We have a good head but she is rather reserved. I don't think she is opposed to involving parents, but she seems loath to share problems and a bit afraid of "outside" interference.
I presume you announce elections as the law requires when you first have a vacancy, that there are often no takers, and nobody takes any further steps to arouse interest. I also presume you have relevant and interesting items to discuss and pleasant relationships on your governing body. If you don't discuss anything serious or have a real sharing of information, it is a bigger problem because no one will have seen any reason to get involved. In that case, you and your fellow governors must be sure you are consulted about policy issues and see this as a problem to tackle before worrying about lack of participation.
Assuming this more serious problem doesn't exist or has been tackled, you need to look at how parents are made aware of what the governing body is doing. Your head should highlight governors' part in making decisions that affect parents, and stress how much she values their work.
Perhaps you could ask her if, because of your concerns, you yourselves could send out a short newsletter from time to time on issues you have had a part in. Also, let them know they have a right to read your minutes on all but strictly confidential matters and to see the relevant papers. So much for routine communication.
When an election is imminent you must make sure that the announcement is not dry and formal with daunting legal jargon but homely and appealing.
Best is a direct communication from the outgoing governor in language that stresses the importance and interest of the job with examples of things achieved with the help of the governors. This will make a big difference. I have known schools send out a handwritten letter from that governor, photocopied just as it is. It takes courage for a head to do this, but it will help in a case where being a governor has been mystified.
If it is a long-standing vacancy, the most senior parent governor on the board or a volunteer could take on the task. Most things governors discuss are not beyond the average parent. But the jargon makes them so. This is a perception you must change.
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 www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert where answers will appear