9th July 1999 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions.

I'm a brand-new head - well almost - in a decent, drab, working-class estate, which is where most of our children come from. There is a lot of parental interest and involvement, however, nurtured by my predecessor, tremendous commitment to the school and concern that children should do well. I value this and hope to keep it.

It's the governors who worry me. There's no problem getting them. Parent elections were, as always, strongly contested this term. We never have vacancies though we don't attract any bank managers or the like.

From first impressions I have to say that the governors are thoroughly nice people, conscientious, sensible, wanting to help. If I wanted a brick barbecue built or a door hung the other way, they'd all be queuing up.

But, honestly, they haven't the education to cope with the kind of issues we have to address: they are baffled by educational terms and the abstractions we deal in, and I defy anyone to overcome that. I always thought it was madness to give governors these responsibilities, but at least in your leafy suburb you might get the odd somebody. Can you please reply, if only to tell me I'm a terrible snob?

Yes, you're a terrible snob. But I think you expect me to say more than that!

So I'll start by saying that many heads would give their eye teeth for the interest and commitment your school attracts, and I'm afraid you will lose it if you let your lack of respect for these people show. Many heads in leafy suburbs would gladly swap a few "somebodies" for a few of yours too, if my post is anything to go by.

You really are lucky to have governors who volunteer, who care and want to learn - and I wouldn't underestimate the intelligence needed to hang a door the other way, either.

One of the most impressive governors I ever knew, one of the earliest parent governors to be elected years before they were legally required, could hang a door the other way though he wasn't too hot in the reading and writing department. He did knock on my door after midnight once to tell me they'd just made a disastrous appointment. As it turned out, he couldn't have been more right, or a few so-called somebodies more wrong.

He also did know why, if not the code used in the education world to say why, and he gave me a salutary lesson in not underestimating people - and in the need for inclusive language.

It's often said that the issues governors confront are difficult to understand, but I think they rarely are. It's the code which is so often impossible, and we shall all have to get a lot better at putting simply the things we have to decide, without being affected or patronising, if we are to get the best out of the raw material each community offers. So many "decent, drab estates" have also been made into places without hope, but some special magic has already been worked on yours, making people feel needed as well as welcome. Don't throw it away.

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