All aboard for some handy hints

4th April 2003 at 01:00
The Parent Governor's Book By Joan Sallis ISBN 1 870672 06 2 Publisher: The Advisory Centre for Education (ACE), 1c Aberdeen Studios, 22 Highbury Grove, London, N5 2DQ. Tel 020 7354 8318 Price: pound;8 plus pound;1 pamp;p

DRIVEN by her profound belief in the value of and need for democracy in education, Joan Sallis's new book champions the rights and outlines the responsibilities of parents as governors while cautioning against the common pitfalls.

This latest work is, like all its predecessors, accessible, punchy and practical. She covers all the obvious issues, such as why we have governors, what they do and how they do it. Her personal involvement in the "revolution" of school governance since the Sixties informs every page of this short manual as she recaps, somewhat apologetically, how governors achieved their current status.

Even more interestingly, her chapter on "What next for parents?" deftly addresses the challenges of the 2002 Education Act, offers some practical strategies for parent governors to maximise their influence at local and national levels, and assesses the international state of the democratisation of education. Not bad for 14 pages.

As a writer, Joan addresses the reader directly and personally: "You'll be up against this resistance (from the professionals in school) almost every day you serve as a school governor." Her demotic style reflects her advice to her readers: "There is a big difference between, 'Your co-operation is requested', and 'Please help us'. Always speak up in favour of forms of words which are friendly, active and include people."

The Parent Governor's Book is practical in many ways. Thought-provoking case studies help to bring home the subtle and complicated issues faced by governors, and the follow-up advice makes good sense. While the author is keen to stress the corporate nature of governance, she clearly feels it necessary to highlight the particular role of the parent governor and perhaps over-emphasises the difficulties they may face: "You have no local education authority, no church group or diocesan board to turn to," she notes.

Later, however, she acknowledges the importance and quality of governor training (quoted in the text by a South African visitor as the thing that had most impressed her during her stay in the UK), so clearly parent governors are not as unsupported as she seems to suggest.

This is a minor quibble in what is, overall, an excellent publication.

Apart from the specifics in the chapter "Your role as a parent governor", a good 80 to 90 per cent of the book is relevant to any governor or general reader. The chapter dealing with the governing body at work, for example, is an excellent pocket guide from which any governor could benefit. This general applicability is the book's main strength and value. Joan Sallis has done it again.

David Marriott is head of governor support at Wiltshire County Council, and author of "The Effective School Governor", published by Network Educational Press (01785 225515)

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