Dalton's Diary

4th July 1997 at 01:00
As a governing body, we expect to be listened to. We represent the stakeholders in the school, teachers, parents and the local community, and our views on how our local school is run should, and do, count.

The new Government's proposal to increase the number of parents on governing bodies is rather superfluous in our case, as the majority of our governors are parents. I am sure we are not alone in this, and I certainly don't feel we are breaching the spirit of the existing legislation; after all, very few parents are that and nothing else. Our parent-governors, under whatever category they serve, include a number of business people, a teacher from a local secondary school, members of local political parties, child-minders and playgroup workers, classroom assistants and a policeman. We are deeply rooted in the community in a way that teaching staff rarely are. I called in at the village library recently to be greeted enthusiastically by the librarian. "I was just going to spend the afternoon updating the community contacts file, and you will know everything!" I did.

Because we governors are a representative group, we can not only speak to the school on behalf of the community, but equally on behalf of the school to the local education authority and national Government. At both levels, I believe our views are actively sought and seriously considered. In our county, chairs of governors and our governors' association have regular meetings with the director of education. Consultation documents are regularly sent out to schools, and, though I initially had difficulty persuading my fellow governors that these were more than paper exercises, resultant significant changes in policy have convinced them that we really are being listened to.

Will the Labour Government listen? The feeling at the recent AGM of the National Governors' Council was that they would - David Blunkett has promised us partnership, and we are prepared to take him at his word. Resolutions urging more money for education, more equitably distributed, and a reconsideration of primary league tables were passed with a feeling that we were petitioning rather than merely protesting. The NGC has made great strides in getting governors' views heard on everything from school security to the new qualification for headteachers. Everyone acknowledges the importance of the governors' role and our right to be consulted.

Or do they? I am the unofficial helpline for our county association, mainly because I work from home as a child-minder. I try to answer queries calmly and professionally, even though the hand not holding the phone may be feeding a baby or helping with a jigsaw. Just once did I totally lose my cool, shriek and drop the phone, when I saw a proud toddler staggering across the carpet carrying a freshly-filled potty.

Two phone calls recently have been particularly worrying. One was from a recently elected parent governor. He had proposed a parents' survey at his high school, set up a working party and gained governing body approval for the draft version. The teacher governor, who uses governors' meetings to catch up with his marking, made no comment, but denounced the whole project at the next staff meeting and succeeded in having it abandoned. My other caller, also part of late autumn's recruitment drive, simply rang to ask how to resign. She was totally disenchanted with the role of governor in a school where the headteacher was unwilling to share information or responsibility with anyone.

Governors' meeting consisted of an anodyne report from the head, nothing could be discussed that was not on the agenda, which was set by the headteacher. Perhaps not quite everyone is listening.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the East Midlands

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