First-timer's fears about loyalty

7th July 2006 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

I am a newly-elected parent governor of a voluntary-aided infant and junior C of E school. Some of the other parents on the board have not been elected - what is the difference?

There are other governors, not parents, appointed by the church, some elderly, plus a teacher and the caretaker. Do we all have an equal say? The vicar is chairman - is this always so? Nobody argues with him. Staff never speak at all.

Parents come to me with concerns but I get fobbed off when I raise any criticism. Two examples recently concerned children not getting places because the parents don't attend church, and another that there is too much religious emphasis.

Is it a state school or not? I am afraid of seeming disloyal with these queries.

A: Don't feel uncomfortable about asking these questions. An aided church school is certainly part of the state system. The churches were the first providers of education and their schools were integrated into the local system from the outset, though with some differences, the main ones being:

* that the church provides money for internal maintenance of the building; (b) that in accepting children for places they can legally give preference to families of their own faith; l that although other schools in the public system teach an agreed Christian package, the faith concerned may play a more prominent part within an aided school because there is a legal right to provide its observances and promote its beliefs; and l that the governing body is constructed rather differently from community schools.

On this point, only one parent is popularly elected, but the group appointed by the church has to contain enough parents to bring the proportion up to one third of the total.

The church group can have a majority of two over all other groups. Two members must represent staff though not more than a third of the total can represent both teachers and support staff. The chairperson is elected by the governing body and does not have to be the vicar.

All members have equal rights to contribute and decisions are by majority vote. The elected parent governor is the one most likely to be approached by parents with a problem. Parents in the church group have a different status and are accountable to the appointing body, but should also watch out for the feelings and rights of parents as well as the faith interests that the church group represents.

Then there is the issue of admissions. The legal rights to favour children of the faith concerned are clear. However, I think that a church school which is the only practicable school for a remote village community ought to be more flexible about admitting children from that community who wish to come without checking church attendance. I believe most village schools follow this principle when they have space. A church school which serves a varied community might adopt less formal styles of worship of a broadly Christian character.

The right of the incumbent to be chair is a vexed question. For a person who has the ideal qualities, and stamina, for a chair, it can be the best of all worlds. For one not so equipped it could be painful for everyone, and should not be automatic . Legally the chair is freely elected by the whole governing body. Automatic selection is getting less common as the work of a governing body becomes more onerous. Sometimes the dilemma is solved by dividing the job in two so one person is responsible for all the business side of chairing and another the social, religious and representational functions.

Everybody on the governing body should have an equal right to express opinions and to vote, and the culture of the governing body itself should encourage this. Parent representatives should be given time to report concerns. Staff representatives should be encouraged to air their worries.

This is the ideal and you can only get as near it as your circumstances permit. Be patient.

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.

Send questions to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see where Joan's answers will appear

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