7th May 1999 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

Our local authority area has many surplus places. Changes are under discussion and one involves reducing the intake of our primary school from two forms of entry to one. This will keep open a school nearby, though for us it means upheaval, less choice for parents, and above all redundancies.

Our governing body is considering the implications of this option. It 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 an LEA governor I get queries because parents assume I know what is happening, but the parent governors are under pressure too. But our head, who has elected not to be governor, insists that all the discussion remains confidential. His argument is that there is no point in causing anxiety until decisions have been made, but the reality is that he knows the plan will be unpopular and he can't face the aggro. Can he muzzle us?

Short answer, no.The governing body, not the head, decides what items of its business are confidential, and the DFEE has always given a fairly strong steer towards keeping confidentiality to a minimum and confining it to matters affecting individual privacy. Discussion should not be kept under wraps just because it might be inconvenient.

The longer answer is that of course no wise governing body imposes its will if there is any possibility of persuasion, and I hope that you will be able to convince your head of an alternative point of view. I have been in many situations involving school reorganisations, and it has always proved better in the end to tell people the facts - and the uncertainties - than to let them speculate wildly and get angry about secrecy as well. 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 quite rightly get upset about losing teachers. These things can sometimes be the best option for all the children, but it needs very careful presentation, explanation and above all opportunities to listen.

l The education select committee is currently hearing evidence on the role of school governors. The address is: Matthew Hamlyn, Education and Employment Committee, House of Commons, London SW1P 3JA. E-mail:

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