26th November 1999 at 00:00
I HEARD a while ago that governors were to be represented on local education authorities - something we have campaigned for without success. Is this still on the agenda, and if so how will it work? Will the representatives have proper status and a real say, and who will they be accountable to? I hope they'll be elected and not the usual "safe" somebodies.

I SENSE you have had some disillusioning experiences of local democracy! Yes, Section 9 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 had this provision, and it is now operative. Elections can start as soon as the necessary arrangements have been made and must be completed by June 2000.

Each LEA must have between two and five representatives of parent governors serving for between two and four years (the LEA decides within these limits how many and what length of service) on its education committee, or, if it does not have one, on the committee that makes decisions on education.

The LEAs set up the election arrangements, but have to appoint a returning officer to ensure that everything is done properly. All parent governors are eligible to vote (except in the City of London and the Isles of Scilly, which are so small that parents do the voting). Any parent governor may stand, except members or employees of the LEA concerned and teachers in its schools.

Voting is by secret ballot. No mention of political party affiliation may appear on any ballot paper. The representatives may speak and vote on any matter other than the fixing of the amounts (revenue or capital) spent on education.

As to accountability, there is no indication of how these new education committee members are to represent parents. I suppose they can only look to whatever appropriate organisations of parents andor governors exist in their localities. Many areas do have governing body associations or governors' forums and some have federations of home-school associations. I would very much hope that the existence of representatives will stimulate the formation of all sorts of groupings from which opinions can be gathered and to which the representatives can report.

Like you I am very anxious that this provision does not deteriorate into tokenism and that the parent governors elected will have the confidence and status which only the support of active constituencies can confer. I am well aware that broadly-based organisations of local parents are rare. I hope that those elected will ensure that they at least use whatever groupings, regular meeting arrangements or training sessions are available to them while working towards something more appropriate.

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