15th May 1998 at 01:00

Q Our local authority area has many surplus places. Various changes are under discussion. One involves reducing the intake of our primary school from two-form entry to one. This will make it unnecessary to close a school in our part of town and to that extent we must consider it though it means a lot of upheaval, less choice for some parents and staff redundancies.

The option mentioned will inevitably mean transitional rearrangement of teaching groups and having some mixed-age classes, as we shall be losing a teacher or two while we still have about 45 in each of the older age groups. As a local authority governor I get queries because parents assume I know what is happening, but the parent governors are under pressure as well.

Our head, who has elected not to be governor, insists that all the discussion is confidential, with the papers and minutes classified. He says that there is no point in causing anxiety until decisions have been made, but really he knows that the plan will be unpopular. Can he muzzle us?

A Short answer, no. It is the governing body, not the head, which decides what items of its business to classify as confidential, and the Department for Education and Employment has suggested keeping confidentiality to a minimum and confining it to matters of individual privacy, not public policy. Discussion of matters still to be decided should not be kept under wraps just because it might be inconvenient. In any case something is bound to leak out, and panic based on half the facts could well be worse. Incidentally the fact that your head is not a governor weakens his case.

Of course, no wise governing body imposes its will if there is any possibility of getting there by persuasion, and I hope that you will be able to convince your head. I have been in many situations involving school reorganisations, and it has always proved better to tell people the facts than to let them speculate wildly.

Parents do not like mixed-age groups. They fear their children will lose friends or be left behind in an older group or bored in a younger one. They also get upset about losing teachers. These things can sometimes be the best option for all the children, but it needs careful presentation and above all opportunities to listen to people, who can, even in the mass, be remarkably rational if they are trusted.

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