In my early days as head, the PTA, which raises considerable funds, refrained from discussing how the school is managed, nor did the PTA use parent-governors to raise such matters.
But recently there has been a barrage of criticism. The PTA is using parent-governors to take up personal grumbles. The governing body has become a centre of unrest. How PTA donations are spent, how the school budget is used and sex education are brought up independently of the agenda. Parent-governors even want to sit in on classes where a teacher is struggling a little, and managers are freely criticised. Should I raise the problems with my professional association, LEA, or the local governors'
I think an approach to any of these three bodies is unwise. Something has gone wrong with the relationships in your school, and there are leadership issues which must be tackled first. I concede recent government policies may have contributed to difficult relationships, as they amount to a move away from a stakeholder model of school management. Parents (and governors) soon become frustrated if they feel they have no legitimate means of asking questions and bringing up concerns, especially on sensitive issues such as how money is spent or sex education.
But a wise head can counter these influences. Your letter suggests parents feel uneasy about your handling of these issues, and you must tackle that.
If heads and senior managers don't respect PTAs, and don't discuss issues with them but just see them as sources of funding, parents will look to the governing body for allies and use parent-governors inappropriately. If schools don't have regular sessions where parents can raise worries, keep them informed about school policies and problems, and debate how voluntary funds should be spent, then parent governors will start identifying with disaffected parents. They will act as as an interest group instead of as colleagues in a shared enterprise. I hope you will accept that you had a hand in this development and that you can change it.
Send questions for Joan Sallis to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernors ask_the_expert where answers will appear