16th February 1996 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

I don't think it right that parent governors should remain in office once their children have left the school. They inevitably become less concerned, are not truly representative, and should make room for new faces.

I suppose I should confine my answer to saying that the law gives parents the right to finish what's left of a four-year term if they wish, but that they can resign if they pick up a feeling either among parents or fellow governors that this would be appropriate. I have often heard passionate arguments on both sides, however.

You raise some good points. Some others are: there are always ways for parent governors to make space for others and be reappointed as local education authority, foundation or co-opted governors if they turn out to have the staying power; many parents with more than one child can have quite a long term of office in a 4 to 11 or 11 to 18 school; and teacher governors have to resign if they leave the school.

One should remember, however, that parents would not normally be appointed until their children were well established in a school; likewise, teachers who go to another school have a different constituency to represent, whereas parents will generally be in touch with the same people for a long while.

But, in the end, one factor brings me down on the side of the law as it stands. The credibility that comes from active representation is, I agree, most important. But if a parent governor is not effective there is no credibility, and parent participation everywhere takes a setback. Parents often take a long time to learn the ropes because they have no support group or ready access to information, they may be unfamiliar with formal procedures, and quite often have to learn how to work with shrewd operators. Too much turnover doesn't help.

In the early days of parent governors (pre-1980), when they were not required by law and were rather a novelty, there was usually just one and often serving for only a year. It was just tokenism in most places. Still that was a long time ago and you may well be right.

Ours is a nursery school with a staff of eight and its own delegated budget. We have an advisory committee but it is not involved in our finances, a fact which seemed to surprise the Office for Standards in Education inspectors when they came.

The education authority says the inspectors must have misunderstood the role of the committee. Can you tell us what happens in similar schools?

Nursery schools are not covered by the legislation about governing bodies or local management of schools. They are not required to have governing bodies on the same lines as schools catering for statutory age children.

Nevertheless, there is no reason why they shouldn't and it is common for local education authorities to set up the same sort of system for nurseries as the rest of their schools, with governors appointed, elected or co-opted in the same way and having full budget responsibility.

Your local authority - or perhaps, just your school - has clearly settled for a half-way house with a group of lay people having an advisory role but not full management responsibilities. This is not illegal, but if the OFSTED inspectors had visited a number of nursery schools which had governors in the ordinary sense, it would explain their surprise about the lack of involvement in finance.

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


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