Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

29th December 2000 at 00:00
I am a fairly new parent governor who has got into hot water. We take it in turns to attend the monthly parent teacher association committee to have an exchange of news and opinions. When it came to my turn to report what the governors had been discussing I told them about a possibility that we might extend the school by one form entry. It was not definite, just one idea among others to deal with a shortage of places. I made this clear, especially when the parents present reacted rather strongly and said it would spoil the character of the school. It was all a fuss about very little as we shall consult the parents if it becomes a possibility. However I have taken a lot of stick from my chairman and fellow governors who said I should not talk about confidential or controversial issues before the governing body authorises it. Was I out of order? The discussion was minuted, admittedly so vaguely that few people would have got the meaning, and it was not classified as confidential.

The governing body should make it quite clear if there is any question of an item being under wraps. If it's confidential it should be so classified and excluded from the published minutes. The interest of the item to parents is obvious and you could not be blamed in the absence of any guidance. I cnsider that there should be no grey area between confidential and open, and that there is too much secrecy about proposals which may be controversial.

In my experience such plans usually leak out, especially if the minutes are deliberately uninformative, and that attempts to avoid this make parents suspicious. There is also a risk that inaccurate stories will circulate, and I particularly object to deliberately obscure minutes when governors aren't really sure what they want to do.

Classification as confidential is mainly intended to protect the privacy of individuals, and I don't think it is right to use it for matters which it might be inconvenient to discuss but which are not themselves private. In the exceptional case where the governing body considers, or are advised by the LEA, that early discussion of a matter would really be damaging to the school's interests (when, for instance, a contract is being competed for), the item should be classified so that you all know where you are.

In general I would advise governing bodies not to overdo the confidential classification and to try to keep parents as well-informed as they can be, but individual governors of course have no power to take these decisions on their own and will be guided by the majority.

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