Joan Sallis answers governors' questions.
I am one of three parent governors. We are treated almost as a separate group on the governing body, and have a few times been asked to leave because of delicate matters being discussed.
We are not on any committee except one on community affairs and one on fund-raising where there is a joint committee of parent teachers association and governors. Both the head and chairman have said on various occasions that it would not be appropriate for us to be on committees which deal with matters concerning teachers or individual pupils or the budget, or to help with teacher appointments. The implication is that we are either not reliable or have no expertise. I have to add that we are regularly asked very courteously about what parents think of this or that.
Can you assure me that a parent governor is a full governor with the same duties as others? How do you suggest we proceed?
I did once meet a parent governor who said she'd only ever made the tea, but that was a long time ago and I hoped that such extreme type-casting was a thing of the past.
I can certainly assure you that parent governors have equal status to others and should be fully involved in all the work of the governing body. Indeed in many schools they are the most involved and the most valued, because of their knowledge and commitment. As for expertise, governors are there to bring a commonsense outside view to school affairs. It is very insulting to suggest that you have no skills or that confidential matters are not safe with you.
Like other governors you are restricted by one rule only, and that is that you do not take part in any decision from which you might personally benefit, for instance, if a close relative were seeking employment at the school you wouldn't be on the interviewing panel, or if your child had been permanently excluded you would not be one of the governors making a decision about reinstatement.
I think you need some outside help. Can you talk to one of the staff concerned with governor training in your area and ask advice about this? In many local authorities the training team now offer whole governing body sessions at the school on roles and responsibilities and team-building, and these are far better for flushing out problems such as yours than off-site training sessions, since all or most of the governors will be there and you can focus on your own working-together issues.
You might find a little booklet I have just written for parent governors helpful for waving at people. It has been commissioned by Northamptonshire County Council and given to all their parent governors. It is called Parent Governors: Your Own Guide and deals with all the particular problems parent governors encounter. A few local authorities have purchased copies for all their parent governors. It costs Pounds 2.75 (add the cost of a stamp please) from Northamptonshire Governor Services, Russell House, Rickyard Road, The Arbours, Northampton.
A few weeks ago I answered a question from a teacher about the attempts made by a head in a grant-maintained school to influence the outcome of teacher governor elections. As a result I have had a very friendly letter from David Meikle, Secretary to the Grant Maintained Schools Advisory Committee, expressing great concern about this and saying that the Committee was always anxious to promote proper procedures in GM schools. He has invited the teacher concerned to get in touch with him at Maydenhayne House, Musbury, Axminster, Devon, EX13 6AG.