Agenda

1st November 1996 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions. Q. I used to be one of four parent governors at my children's school. We moved house and the only school in walking distance was a C of E school where, within two years, I was elected a parent governor - the one and only. We also don't have any chance to co-opt governors to give a good mix or bring in some special skills. Why so much less democracy?

A. You have to go back a long way to understand the difference. Although church (voluntary-aided) schools are now integrated into the state system, they existed long before what we now call county schools. They were provided by the church or other voluntary body, and the buildings still belong to the providers. Since 1944 they have also had an obligation to pay for the maintenance of the fabric of the school buildings, though they do get a substantial proportion of this back in government grant.

In return, the foundation has a majority of seats on the governing body, though, since 1986, they have had one elected parent governor - and one foundation governor has to be a current parent. There are other differences too: the governors in a voluntary-aided school have always been the employers of the head and staff, even before local management of schools, and they draw up the admission criteria and decide on the individual admissions. They provide religious education and worship of a denominational character.

It is only fair to add that in many voluntary-aided schools the foundation governors' group will, in practice, include a number of parents and some of the same kind of people from the community as the co-opted governors in county schools. The difference is in the method by which they are chosen. You may be able to argue for more breadth of representation in your own school.

Some people would agree with you that the relationship between duties and privileges in voluntary-aided schools has got out of balance, but change would be strongly contested by others. Churches value their rights as they consider them essential to the maintenance of the school's distinctive religious ethos - hence the variety of our state system. I personally think we could make some modest moves towards greater representation of parents and the public without threatening the special character of the dual system, but at present no political party is pushing the idea.

Q. You often talk of A and B teams and some being "in the know". The behaviour of one of our teachers is causing a lot of gossip. Living locally, I am often asked about it and feel silly knowing nothing, as I am picking up that something is going on which some of us aren't considered important enough to know. Should we tolerate this secrecy?

A. In general, I dislike secrecy. But if your appropriate committee has actually begun a disciplinary process based on misconduct, information must be restricted to its members to ensure that a group of governors at least equal to the size of the committee is available to form an appeal committee, should the need arise.

It is an accepted principle of justice that appeals against a decision must be heard by people not involved in that decision and unprejudiced by knowledge of what has gone before.

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