How to keep pushy parents at bay

26th May 2006 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your leadership questions

As an experienced teacher governor I am very much under pressure. My school is a primary in a prosperous area and many parents go private at the secondary stage, and we still have the 11-plus.

I respect the fairly new head very much: he resists parent pressure more than his predecessor. She was more inclined to give parents what they wanted - curriculum narrowly concentrated on the 3Rs, setting in junior classes and coaching children for the 11-plus. Work was targeted to entry to local independent schools so much that it was at the expense of the majority of children.

It also inhibited the broad, rich, creative school experience which is, thank heaven, emerging from the barren 90s, and I find teaching 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 now being stretched, and we are having a special meeting to discuss the situation.

I want to support my head strongly 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 an issue for governors 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) and you are free to support the aims and style of your school as warmly as you want.

Like you, I rejoice in being associated with a school which serves all its children, which promotes health, emotional well-being, pleasure in discovery, creativity, above all else, and where performance in basics thrives on the treatment. The Government's recent social and emotional aspects of learning materials are on our side.

Having said that, this does not absolve you from the responsibility l to include parents in your thinking;

* to prove that performance can actually improve in such a regime;

* to look at all forms of organisation with a view to maximising individual performance; and

* 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 headteacher, you can promote them.

On the third point, while turning your back on wholesale ability grouping, there are acceptable and unobtrusive (if complex) forms of organisation which challenge groups of abler children even in the kind of curriculum you describe. Yes, it's 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.

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