Joan Sallis Answers your questions

26th November 2004 at 00:00
I am not one of those heads who wants to marginalise governors. I also try to encourage parents and welcome all interest - even criticism - and yet I get silence. We haven't had a contested parent election for years and are several governors short. Our meetings with parents are poorly attended.

Nobody challenges us. Governors' meetings are dull, while governors'

meetings with parents are a non-event. Yet parents are tremendously supportive of the school and a few years ago when the LEA wanted to re-site it they were out on the streets. Where did I go wrong?

I am sure you haven't gone wrong at all. It is enough for me that you want to change things. There are probably thousands of heads in your situation and some feel secretly grateful, while others would like to change things but it isn't a priority.

Many parents have so much to do that they feel they cannot play an active part in their child's school. So much is expected of them these days.

Meanwhile, politicians have bizarre education ideas which it is difficult to keep pace with. If an apparently effective school is carrying on without help, why complain?

But I am not saying there is nothing to worry about. I think passive acceptance of what the school does, however good it is, could be dangerous, especially given the bizarre ideas which will be implemented if we don't complain. And dangerously, many people haven't a clue what they entail. It isn't good for schools to have everything they do pass without comment.

Even the best schools are fine at reporting successful and happy things to parents and not so good at sharing their problems, their unanswered questions and unfulfilled hopes. (Remember this every time you write a report or address a meeting.) Very good at telling us, not so good at asking us. (Look at your annual report and your meeting invitations).

People respond to being wanted and are quick to feel taken for granted. (Is the language used always appropriate?) Do you seem to be so knowledgeable that nobody could help? Does the school give the statutory notice of a meeting and then forget it? Reminders two days ahead could make a difference. Is the room and meeting structured to invite talk?

When we have a parent governor election, do we circulate a photocopy of an encouraging note written by hand by an outgoing governor, uncorrected, saying how important and rewarding it is? Does it matter if it's a wonderful school and nobody in their senses could think of any improvement? It may not matter to that school or any school at a particular time. The reason I say it's dangerous is that education itself is vulnerable to so many dubious interests and influences from outside that even satisfied customers have to be well informed and watchful. If good schools believe this it is a great protection.

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 www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert where answers will appear

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