Pitfalls if you're not

28th September 2001 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

At Easter three parent governors whose children were leaving in July resigned so that successors could settle in well ahead of a new school year. We had May elections, and not a big turn-out.

Already their replacements are causing mayhem. They are all members of a fundamentalist religious sect. They try to impose extreme views on this multi-cultural school and its broad approach to moral and spiritual matters. They attack our assemblies, our multi-cultural religious education lessons and other aspects of the school's curriculum and social life.

They condemn our very popular monthly quiz and fish and chips night because it takes place in a pub. They objected to staff bringing wine on the last day of term. They also criticise teachers and campaign to toughen up discipline.

The low level of interest in being a parent governor is a problem. If a group with one agenda can get through the election process something is wrong. Does your governing body project a visible image of a purposeful and above all relevant influence? Or is it a bit cosy?

You must ensure you are visible and your values explicit, a group all sorts of people will be eager to join. Your new colleagues have missed two fundamentals: on your own or in a small one-agenda group you cannot challenge anything or change anything and governors must keep their eye on the big picture, avoid getting embroiled in day-by-day operations, and find strategic routes to influence.

Are you sure your curriculum philosophy, your values of inclusion and tolerance and your guidelines for a multi-faith school are strong, shared and explicit? Are they sufficiently visible to promote broad participation? Have you a working-together culture which you share with new members?

It is the chair's job to rein in any members who have the wrong ideas, but only if supported by a group culture firmly embedded in explicit working-together policies and processes, embodying your principles and open to democratic challenge. Your commitment to the well-being of the school must shine through. Your new members have a right to contribute but only if they accept that the tolerance you share overrides personal faith.

If your governing body gave this message more widely you would be unlikely to have a low vote or an unrepresentative outcome.

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