Feeling the pain of people power

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

We have a group of very disaffected parents in our school (I am a parent governor in my second term of office. ) They believe the head is a snob and favours children from well-to-do homes. Their children get in trouble for rowdy behaviour, bullying and damage to school property. Too many, in their parents' view, are in low-ability sets.

It is a high-achieving school. When we were over-subscribed we tried to get the local education authority to change its admission policies to exclude a part of the catchment area, furthest away, where these parents happen to live. This was misunderstood. Now these parents have nominated someone to fill a new vacancy for a parent governor and the head does not wish the nomination to go ahead. I have to say that I dread the consequences of having this person elected. Do we have to accept the nomination?

It would be a serious offence to interfere with the election. I have dealt with this issue before and then I strongly advised the head in question then not to discourage any properly made nomination. Democracy does mean taking what comes and perhaps you should think whether you are being offered any messages about your policies and style. It may be healthy for your governing body to have representation from a group less satisfied with the school.

If you have a lively interest in elections to the governing body this parent may not even be elected. (If there is apathy then perhaps you need to work at being more visible.) I understand your concern - you will be accommodating a very different view of the school and life won't be so peaceful. But it is important that you as a governing body represent the school as it is and do not sweep any of its problems under the carpet.

I hope for instance that you do take your responsibility for behaviour policy seriously. Perhaps it could be more positive in its messages.

Setting also seems to be a source of bad feeling. If it is right across the curriculum it can be a very self-fulfilling prophecy. Many schools only set in what I think are called linear subjects, that is where you can't progress without the previous stage, for example mathematics, and I have known many teachers who find it more rewarding to have mixed ability in subjects where this doesn't apply and progress reflects stimulation to a greater extent.

If you do get a challenging colleague I am sure you will listen carefully and with respect. But even if you don't this could be a turning point in the relationships which are causing such concern. It sounds an unhappy school where social differences are allowed to assume serious proportions and it may be a good sign that a parent from a disaffected group is willing to become a governor.

I am a senior teacher in a small school. I thought I could attend governors' meetings as an observer without a vote. At a meeting the governors voted that no one other than governors could attend unless invited. Is this correct?

Thank you for your query. I am sorry you clearly feel a bit hurt about not being automatically included in governors' meetings, but I am afraid the governing body is acting quite properly. Having said that it is quite common for the deputy head to be a regular visitor - he is in my primary school, but not in the secondary where I was until recently. It may seem a bit harsh, but the governing body is a balance of interests and staff now have up to one third of the total seats - I'm pleased to say - so they may think they have to be careful lest non-staff governors feel a bit outnumbered. You have not said how your head regards this but I would expect - assuming he or she has opted to be a governor - that there will be an opportunity for him or her to invite you from time to time with colleagues' approval to contribute on anything in which you have a particular interest. Governors' minutes of course are open documents - anyone can see them after any classified items have been removed. You may also wish, when there is a staff governor vacancy, to stand for election.

Joan's column will now appear every three weeks.

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 www.tes.co.ukgovernors ask_the_expertwhere answers will appear

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