Our school has a policy of valuing everyone equally, regardless of gender, race, ability or disability. Like many other schools, we set this policy out in the prospectus. Unlike some others, we actually practise it.
There are pitfalls, and over the years we've probably fallen into most of them. We respect and celebrate the religious beliefs and practices of minority groups within the school, and fail to correct the casual daily blasphemies that offend our practising Christians. We positively discriminate in favour of girls to the extent that the eager little boys at the front waving hands in the air and shouting "Miss, Miss, I know" stand no chance.
We governors, like the staff, are remarkably homogeneous in background, outlook and values. We welcome opportunities to demonstrate our enlightened liberalism in our policies on special needs, sex and religious education and when making appointments. We hope to avoid political correctness in its more aggressive manifestations, but I admit I now use words like "ethos", "mission statement" and "ownership" with scarcely perceptible irony. I have even learned to call the nice girls who teach the infants "women".
Most of our governors are young parents, many work in education or closely related fields. We like and trust each other and find it easy to reach consensus on most issues.
Then along came Eric. Appointed by the parish council, he seemed to represent the antithesis of everything we stood for. Retired, childless, from a medical background; here was the acid test. Could our sharing, caring community find a place for a middle-aged, white Conservative male?
It wasn't easy. The practices and values of the school were foreign to him, and initially he seemed to have little positive to contribute. But although he was sceptical and questioning, he was also open-minded and willing to learn. He became a training junkie, attending every course available at his own expense. We were confident enough in the school and the children not to be defensive or strident, but to let him draw his own conclusions on his frequent formal and informal visits. As we would for any child in the reception class, we made due allowance for the influence of his background, upbringing and life experience, and encouraged him to develop his full potential.
He never missed a concert or a sports day, he was Santa at the Christmas party, served effectively on finance committees and appointments panels, and he enjoyed our meetings. Informal and good-humoured, but effective. The parish council he told us, was never like this. It was a hot-bed of personal and political jealousies. He worked hard for the local community, but he made enemies as well as friends, and eventually gave up his place on the council. The only thing he regretted was having to give up his governorship of the school, which he had enjoyed enormously.
It was then I realised how successfully we had integrated him. A year ago, we would all have greeted his departure with a sigh of relief. Now we rallied to his support. Every governor I spoke to said the same thing. He was one of us, part of the team. We wanted him to stay and complete his term of office and we told the parish council so.
"I've got a real soft spot for Eric," said our social worker. A rare example of left-wing tolerance, and worth celebrating.
Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands