How to deal with over-zealous parents;Agenda;Governors

27th March 1998 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions


As a head I deplore over-zealous parent-governors bringing in gripes from their own children's experience and that of parents who approach them. Surely governors are not a complaints bureau?


If you share policy issues with governors they will achieve a broader commitment. Some parent-governors need to take a less personal and short-term view, and must encourage parents to take purely individual concerns to the appropriate staff member or head.

Could your chair or an experienced parent governor brief new appointees on this? And could someone take on the task of informing the general parent body about what governors can and can't do? Three cautions, however.

First, remember that we waited a long time for schools to be exposed to a legitimate expression of that more personal and passionate concern from which broader sympathies grow, which is still often the engine which drives the governing body. Build on it rather than devalue it, and ensure that parent-governors have opportunities to put general parent concerns on the agenda.

Second, parents can feel diffident about approaching the school and they need someone to smooth the path.

Third, the governing body should hear complaints, (but only of course when the normal routes have failed). Do publicise this, and your school's arrangements for hearing day-to-day concerns - I favour a set time for this as well as an open door in emergency.


This is an area where some parents put a lot of pressure on the school to promote high achievement and are pretty ruthless in condemning any money spent otherwise.

Sometimes they behave as though a local school ought to be grateful that they favour it with their support - and of course the fact that we retain some children who might otherwise go private is something we have to value. They would like us to run a lot more prestigious trips out of school but in fact we have to keep pretty close to the curriculum needs and keep costs to a minimum.

Recently parents have been criticising this and also the amount spent on special educational needs children who, they've even been heard to say, won't ever achieve much. It isn't nice but how can we respond?


No, it isn't nice, but I understand you have to tread the tightrope between providing the best for all and keeping the mix.

The special needs bit is easy: you must tell your parents that the budget includes elements to cover children's special needs and that they actually have to show in various ways how they have discharged their responsibility.

On trips too the law supports what you are doing, since you can't charge for or legally exclude anybody from school-time trips, and unless you can subsidise or get enough voluntary contributions to cover the cost you can't run them. You can lay on more glamorous activities in the holidays, and charge the actual cost, but many schools think it too divisive and I personally feel uneasy about it.

Stick to your guns. As governors you determine the school's ethos and are right not to respond to minority wishes which would harm any of its children. But I would warn that there is some danger in schools like this of teachers especially getting a bit self-righteous and making parents feel bad about what they want for their own children.

You need high expectations at all levels, and in a well-run school the stimulus of bright pupils and the policies adopted to cater for them can benefit all. Try to broaden your parents' sympathies rather than blaming them.

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