Muddled lip service?

7th July 2000 at 01:00
The role of parent governors elected to local councils is confusing, says Roger Adcock

THE idea of wearing two hats conjures up a droll spectacle, but it is not so funny when it indicates a conflict of interest. Some parent governors are now faced with a confusion of roles.

School governing bodies are corporate entities and the principle of corporate responsibility is fundamental to their statutory operation. So, whatever constituency governors may represent - be it parents, teachers or education authorities - their prime responsibility is to the welfare of the school, as determined by the corporate decisions of the governing body. To isolate one group for a particular function is to undermine that corporate responsibility.

This is precisely what has happened with the introduction of parent governor representatives (PGRs) on education authorities. The Government had the laudable intention to involve parents in the decision-making processes of education authorities, but chose, against advice, to do it through parent governors. Which hat are they to wear, parent or governor?

David Blunkett is on record as saying: "I have fought all my life against gesture politics." Is not the lip service to parents through the muddled mechanism of parent governors just that? Or worse still, a two-fingered gesture at the concept of corporate responsibility of governors and governing bodies? Or is it just another case of a well-intentioned principle just not being properly thought through?

The interests of parents in general may not coincide with the perceived responsibility of governors with corporate responsibility. Who are they answerable to? The intention was that they should represent all parents, which they do not. On the other hand, they do not represent all governors either. Yetjust because they are governors, many LEAs will not now offer places to representatives of local governors.

The National Governors' Council saw this muddle coming. As a result of the council's advice to its 80 member associations, PGRs have been co-opted onto committees of local governor associations to give them access to a wider constituency.

The Department for Education and Employment has further compounded confusion by asking for tenders to administer a support network for PGRs. The tender document states that the role of the PGR "is to represent the views of all parents in their local area and feed back local authority decisions to parents".

There is no mention of governors. Clearly, a network of PGRs will not produce a network of parents, yet it would potentially establish a network of one kind of governor. Will there then be pressure for networks of teacher governors and LEA governors? What price corporate responsibility then? That concept will be further undermined by Mr Blunkett's intention "to consult those in the (PGR) network on education matters from time to time." Once again, these distracted souls will have to choose hats.

The National Governors' Council will not, because of its dedication to the principles of corporate responsibility and democratic accountability, tender to run this network - although it is ideally placed to do so for parent governors while making no claim to represent parents.

In the bucolic backwoods of the west country a rustic was heard singing this ditty: "The Government has made a rule For representation by a mule A parent must a PG be,A hybrid in identity. And now all this has come to pass One wonders who's in fact the ass."

Roger Adcock is a Devon governor and secretary of the National Governors' Council.

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