14th August 1998 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions


The three parent governors in our school generally work closely together and try to come to a common view (a) because we are stronger that way and (b) because we can be made to look silly if we can't agree. We have a particularly difficult decision on how to manage a budget cut with minimum damage.

A temporarily huge reception class, caused by the closure of a small infants' school near us, really ought to be split. One new parent governor whose child is in that class is under pressure because those parents think she must represent their interests. But we haven't a teaching space or a teacher, and the only way to do it is to have mixed-age classes in the older age groups where numbers are fairly small. But this option would upset a far larger number of parents - hence the conflict among us.

Before the budget cut we were planning to employ an additional early years teacher who would team-teach the large group of four to nearly six-year-olds with the current teacher, using the hall and the present reception classroom flexibly between class lessons and more active pursuits.

Now we could only contemplate that if we abandoned a cherished plan to appoint a science curriculum leader and establish an environmental area on the site; parents are pushing for this because our science is weak. Which line should we take?


I agree that parent governors risk having any differences exploited and that in interpreting parent concerns it helps if they are united. But interpreting parent concerns is only half the job - the representation part - and even for that I should consider one age group to be too narrow a base.

Having done that faithfully, we all, whatever interest group we represent, have to contribute honestly as governors to a view on the needs of children, and if we differ even within one interest group so be it - let's have the debate. The budget is a shared responsibility, not an auction.

I may not know all the facts, but if you want a quick reaction to your choices I would say that your over-riding priority is to appoint another early years teacher now, and achieve it with the minimum disruption to other age groups. I am doubtful about the larger mixed-age groups solution because you will also have to provide for this abnormally big age group coming through. Therefore, I think the team-teaching with some use of the hall is preferable to a major reorganisation of older groups. Carefully timetabled, it could provide a very rich offering for the youngest, combining the benefits of more teacher time per head with a wider range of skills and activities.

I accept this means going slow on improvement of science teaching, but in a school your size you will get vacancies, and you can just decide the next new appointment has to be a science specialist. As for the outdoor project, surely with keen volunteers that could begin without delay and be ready when the time comes.

Joan Sallis will be answering a similar question about teacher governors and budget cuts after the summer holiday

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