Joan Sallis Answers your questions

4th March 2005 at 00:00
You often refer to governors' accountability to parents and as a parent-governor this is my priority. I also believe we must look critically at classroom policies, especially if these are troubling parents.

Following the appointment of a new head our high-performing school is introducing mixed-ability grouping for English, humanities, IT, and possibly other subjects, including languages. I am under pressure from parents who believe it will hold the brightest students back. Some of my fellow governors accuse me of being blinkered when I keep saying parents must be heard.

You are clearly conscientious but on this difficult issue I must add that being accountable isn't the same as being a mouthpiece, and a representative is a different thing from a delegate.

A delegate acts on explicit instructions from an interest group, while a representative listens and reports faithfully on their views, but in the end votes for the interests of the school as perceived after discussion.

The governing body is responsible to parents as well, but every member, including parent-governors is also responsible to the education authority and wider community.

In fact I doubt whether you hear the views of all parents. You probably hear more views from parents of children in higher sets. Their interests may not necessarily coincide with those of the school as a whole.

I suspect that your new head is convinced mixed-ability teaching is not merely workable but beneficial in the subjects you mention. But there are subjects, maths is the prime example, where you can't move on unless you mastered the last process - and so may need smaller ability range in a class. So many schools now use different systems for different subjects. I think another factor is that very skilled teachers do better with mixed ability but the less skilled may struggle with it, and heads have to work with the staff they have.

I am not telling you what to think. I am only saying that being a parent governor is more than just passing on strongly-held views. Ultimately you have to make recommendations based on discussion with colleagues and your own objective look at school performance and the elementsin it.

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