The deeper you look at the idea of annual general meetings, the sillier it gets. If the parents don't come, why should the governors?

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
We had our parentgovernor annual general meeting last night. The usual massive turnout: five people, and two of them were from the same family.

We've held agms every year since Kenneth Baker (the Conservative former education secretary) dreamed up the idea in the Eighties, but even when the initiative was fresh we only got three parents.

And low turnouts seem to be universal. Once a year, in draughty school halls all over the country, governors hold AGMs that nobody attends.

The reason is obvious. The original idea was interesting enough. Parents, have a say in your child's education! Hurry to your child's school and meet the governors who will listen and record your views! And if more than 40 per cent of you attend, you can vote to change school procedures.

Governors, teachers and parents thrashing out the school's problems in an earnest atmosphere of splendid co-operation. Well, that was the idea.

Teachers know (though Mr Baker didn't think of asking their opinion) that parents will visit the school en masse for concerts, fetes, or open evenings. What parents won't do is come to a dull meeting that doesn't affect their child directly. Governors aren't interested either. My vice-chair invariably oversees the evening, and the others simply don't turn up. It's hardly surprising. If the parents don't come, why should the governors?

The deeper you look at the idea of AGMs, the sillier it gets. In theory, governors should write the report, arrange the meeting, discuss matters with the parents, report back to the full governing body, and then take action. In practice, the governors don't know much about the running of the school, so who writes the report? The head. Then it's checked, duplicated, stapled and sent to the parents. Who does that? The admin officer. Who takes the minutes while the one governor is chairing? The deputy head. Who answers questions asked by parents who bother to come? The governor won't have detailed knowledge, so it's the head again. As far as the AGM is concerned, the governors could be dispensed with. Hardly surprising that many schools are abandoning the idea.

The meetings do have their amusing moments, though. Last year's was provided by Mrs Jenkins, a parent who turns up for everything, particularly if there's a chance of a grumble. "I've got a complaint," she said menacingly.

"Have you seen the doctor?" asked the chair brightly. She didn't smile.

"That security buzzer on the gate. I came to fetch my Darren for a haircut and a boy let me in. What if I was a paedophile? Or a maniac?"

"It was dealt with," I explained. "The children know they mustn't open the gate. He did say he was only being helpful."

"That's not much good, is it? He needs telling off. And sometimes I've stood at that gate ringing and ringing and nobody lets me in."

"That's odd. There's always someone in the office to push the button."

"Well, it's not acceptable. What if there's nobody in the office? Why isn't every classroom wired for the buzzer? Then teachers could come out and check if somebody's opened the gate."

"Even if it were possible, I don't think we could afford... " "There you are, you see. Proves my point."

On it went for another 20 minutes. That, and a question about the toilets, occupied most of the meeting. Had he been there, even Kenneth Baker might have wondered what he'd started.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.


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