No meeting of minds

1st March 1996 at 00:00
Secondary headteachers want the compulsory annual meeting for parents abolished, dismissing them as "a waste of time". But governors groups are split over the suggestion.

In a letter to Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, the Secondary Heads Association says the annual meetings have "largely failed to fulfil the purpose envisaged for them".

Instead, it wants the yearly meeting replaced with a right for 20 per cent of parents to require a meeting. Annual reports should remain as "a valuable and helpful requirement" but governing bodies should be free to develop links with parents in their own way.

John Sutton, general secretary of SHA, says, "These meetings are a waste of time and effort. Two men and a dog represents an average attendance and the dog is pretty reluctant."

Simon Goodenough, chairman of the National Governors Council, said most governing bodies would be glad to do away with the annual meeting. It had been important when schools kept parents away but there were now quite adequate means of making their voices heard. "As a steam and safety valve the annual meeting is no longer necessary." But fewer than 20 per cent of parents ought to be able to requisition a meeting.

The National Association of Governors and Managers on the other hand is vigorously opposed to SHA's move. "We would oppose that to the death," says their spokesman, Walter Ulrich. "The annual parents meeting is a necessary adjunct to the annual report. Together they are the only formal means by which the governors discharge their accountability to parents. The fact that parents make little use of them is a fact of life. But even if only one or two parents come, the duty of the governors is to listen to what they have to say."

Mr Ulrich says it is extraordinary that such a suggestion should come from a headteachers' association since the annual meeting was the responsibility of the governing body. Head's actions might be called into question at such meetings but they were accountable to the governors, not parents.

Previous attempts to have the annual meeting abolished have fallen on deaf ears. Present ministers are not inclined to lessen parents' rights and to do so in this case would require an Act of Parliament, though SHA may be aiming their request at the next government.

What the secondary heads may have achieved is to demonstrate that governors do not speak with one voice, just like headteachers. Both groups are arguably the weaker for it.

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