Few governors would argue with the principles underpinning the SEN Code of Practice: that children have the right to have their needs met and to have access to a broad and balanced curriculum and that parents are partners with the school in this process. Any SEN policy worth its salt will incorporate these principles. Problems arise because the statutory responsibilities placed on governors require deeper involvement than merely policy-making. The governing body is required to:
* endeavour to secure necessary provision for any pupil with SEN;
* secure that information from the LEA about pupils with SEN is made known to all who will teach them;
* secure that teachers in the school are aware of the importance of identifying and providing for those pupils with SEN;
* consult with others, external to the school, to co-ordinate special educational provision;
* report annually to parents on the school's SEN policy;
* ensure that any pupil with special needs joins with other pupils as far as is practical.
One of these duties has caused severe difficulties in at least one school. It has contributed to the complete breakdown of relationships between a parent governor and the headteacher, to a split in the governing body and has been the partial cause of that parent governor, in effect, being barred from the school.
This came to light as part of a research project conducted by the National Association of Governors and Managers into the role of parent governors. The parent governor, who was also the "responsible person", as defind in the Code of Practice, took her responsibilities very seriously. Two of her own children had special needs and she felt she had an under-standing that would be beneficial to the school.
The particular stumbling block appears to have been in her interpretation of the governing body responsibility to "secure that teachers in the school are aware of the importance of identifying, and providing for, those children who have special educational needs". Her interpretation of adequate identification and provision differed markedly from those of the head and teaching staff. As both sides dug in, relationships deteriorated. Everyone seems to think that their view is the right one and no one will give way. Stalemate has been reached and everyone is the loser.
Where does the fault lie? It may be a structural fault. There is an expectation that governors necessarily have the skills and knowledge to undertake what is essentially a professional role.
Vicki Jackson, another parent governor who took part in the NAGM research, describes the role of the SEN governor thus: "You should be aware of practice within the school and how it is monitored. You should leave it to the SENCO, the professional, to implement it."
The moral of this tale: as a governor, tiptoe lightly, there are sensitivities on all sides - size 12 boots are not required.
Jane Phillips is a governor of two schools. The NAGM research was conducted in conjunction with the University of Hertfordshire by Jane Phillips and John Adams. NAGM can be contacted on www.nagm.org.uk