Don't let parents hold you back

17th February 2006 at 00:00
As an experienced teacher governor I am very much under pressure. Our primary school is in a prosperous area, where many parents look to the private sector at secondary stage and we still have the 11-plus. I respect the fairly new head very much: he resists parent pressure much more than his predecessor.

She was more inclined to give parents what they wanted - a curriculum concentrated on the three Rs with setting in junior classes, coaching children for the 11-plus and work targeted to entry to local independent schools. In my opinion this was at the expense of the majority.

The curriculum also inhibited the broad, rich, creative school experience which is now emerging from the barren 1990s, so that teaching is now more exciting than for many years. Some older colleagues found the old regime less demanding! But we are under a lot of pressure from disaffected parents complaining to staff and parent governors that their children are not being stretched, with the result that we are actually having a special meeting to discuss the situation. I want to support my head but this is not a general staff view and a vote would go against me. Do I have to take the majority line? And is it a governor issue anyway?

Last question first. It is, I think, an issue for governors, not only because there is unrest in their community but also because ultimately they have to accept responsibility for the school's learning aims, policies and outcomes. A teacher governor is a representative not a delegate, so not obliged to follow majority opinion (though be honest at the meeting about any dissent). You are free to support the aims and style of your school as warmly as you want.

I am familiar with your situation. Like you I rejoice in being associated with a school which serves all its children, promoting health, emotional well-being, pleasure in discovery, creativity above all else, and where performance in basics thrives in its atmosphere. The recent government Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) materials back our stance.

However, this does not absolve you from the responsibility (a) to include parents in your thinking; (b) to prove that performance can actually improve in such a regime; (c) to look at all forms of organisation with a view to maximising individual performance; and (d) to remember that "creativity" must not be an excuse for accepting less than the best (which is where the 1960s came unstuck). Some enthusiasts neglect one or other of these. See if, while supporting your head, you can promote these.

On (c), while turning your back on wholesale ability grouping, there are acceptable and unobtrusive (if complex!) forms of organisation which challenge groups of more able children even in the kind of curriculum you describe: yes, hard work for everybody but rewarding.

As for exams, I take my life in my hands and say that it is not a good primary school's job to coach children for exams to the exclusion of broader development, whatever the ambitions of their parents and the local schools organisation. Your school has to be brave in promoting this message - and resolute in justifying it by its performance. Stick to your guns.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see where answers will appear Joan Sallis's column now appears on this page every three weeks: see more of her answers on the TES website

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