Answers your questions

7th January 2005 at 00:00
As a head I welcome all interest from parents, even criticism, but get resounding silence. We haven't had a contested parent governor election for years and are several governors short. Our annual meetings with parents are badly attended. Although everyone seems happy, I wonder whether I have gone wrong somewhere.

I am pleased to have your letter at a time when the Government is proposing to abolish statutory annual reports to parents and annual meetings. Many good and well-motivated heads may welcome this, but to me it is a shocking proposal.

I am sure you haven't gone wrong at all, particularly when there are many heads in your situation who would feel secretly grateful for the "resounding silence". We have to accept that playing an active part is, for many parents, almost unattainable. If an apparently effective school is carrying on without challenge why complain? But trouble can descend on even the most excellent school,. and the old belief that children learn better when their parents follow and support the school still holds.

What can you do? Even the best schools are fine at reporting happy news but are not so good at sharing problems and unfulfilled hopes. (Remember this as you write a report or address a meeting.) Sometimes we are very good at telling, not so good at asking. (Look at your annual report and meeting invitations). People like being wanted, but are quick to feel taken for granted.

Do we seem to be so knowledgeable that nobody feels they could help us? Do we give the statutory notice of a meeting and then forget it? Reminders two days ahead could help. Do we structure the room and meeting to encourage talk? When we have a parent governor election, do we circulate a photocopy of an encouraging handwritten note by an outgoing governor, unaltered, saying how important and rewarding it is?

Why do Ibelieve that abolishing annual reports and meetings would be a disaster? Simply because accountability to users is fundamental, and particularly in a public service. Not to provide a yearly report on how you have spent people's money and cared for their children is monstrous. Are the required annual meetings of share-holders well attended?No, of course not, but no-one would ever suggest that they shouldn't be held.

TES welcomes your queries. Please keep requests for private replies to a minimum. Send questions for Joan Sallis to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see where answers will appear

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