The problems of writing an annual report for Latchmere governors are doubled by the fact that they are responsible for two separate schools, Latchmere Infant and Latchmere Junior. Rising to that challenge and confronting the schools' undoubted difficulties seems to put the governing body at the centre of their community and underlines the importance of the annual report.
As Caroline Egerton, the chair of governors who edited the report, says, "We have to try to draw the two schools together. Having both in a single report helps to feel part of a single community parents see the school as one. "
The report frankly addresses not only the schools' successes but also their problems overcrowding, difficulties in getting temporary classrooms replaced and the trouble some year 6 pupils have in getting secondary places.
"Our overriding aim is to make people feel good about the place. Information is a powerful tool. We are not trying to talk up our schools but to give information to give confidence," says Caroline Egerton.
The 16-page A4 booklet printed on glossy paper (a windfall from the printers) is certainly dense with information. But the clever use of introductory easy-read paragraphs in larger type for each section enables parents to skim until they find the sections that interest them; a tactic endorsed by consumer research. "Parents told us they did not mind the length of the report so we lay it out so they can choose what to read," Caroline Egerton explained.
A quarter of the report is devoted to curriculum issues and special needs. It includes the schools' responses to the slimming down of the national curriculum. The junior school introduced the study of three European languages; the infant devotes more time to core subjects along with its special focus on reading, spelling and handwriting.
Unlike some reports which simply report the national curriculum test results without comment, Latchmere governors devote half a page to discussion of their validity and how the school compares nationally. The absence figures too are seized as an opportunity to reinforce enthusiasm for education and the values of the schools as this extract shows: "can we remind you again of the difficulties [taking children out for family holidays during term time] causes not only for your own children but also for the teachers and other children in the class and school. You might not think it but frequent disappearances of children for holidays actually damage the culture of the schools and make it might more difficult to sustain their high standards... we would like to create a feeling that school is a serious business (even if it is often good fun) and that attendance really matters. Do please help us with this if you can. "
Such a self-confident governoring body well-supported by parents and beset by external problems might be thought ideal candidates for opting out. Their coverage of this issue in the report is a good example of the more serious contemplation governors appear to be giving to this question (see Joan Sallis, left). Written by Mike Baker, who, in between being a Latchmere parent governor, is the BBC's education correspondent, it outlines the issues (in December 1995) and gives the governors reasoning: "As required by law, governors have again considered the question of opting out which involves leaving the education authority and becoming a grant maintained school directly funded from central government.
"The three main parties have very different policies and, with an election not far off, there is great uncertainty and controversy about the future status of GM schools.
"GM schools remain state schools and do not charge fees. They do, however, receive extra funding to compensate for the loss of council services, but may have to use this extra money to buy in new services (such as payroll or advisory teachers) from other providers.
"A substantial proportion of secondary schools (about one in five) has opted out but very few primary schools. This may be becuase primaries do not benefit from the economies of scale that are possible in larger secondary schools.
"After discussion the governing body decided unanimously that the political uncertainty and the absence of any obvious enthusiasm from the schools or parents made it unnecessary to hold a ballot this year. We shall of course keep the issue under review and welcome your views."
It has recently been suggested that annual meetings for parents be scrapped because they lack support. Latchmere shows that given enthusiasm and openness parents can be drawn to meetings by a good report. They had 100 at their last though there was no particularly hot issue.
First prizes Pounds 750 Elizabeth Garret Anderson School Islington Latchmere Infant and Junior Schools, Kingston Runners-up Pounds 250 Glasbury-on-Wye, Powys Low Bentham County Primary, North Yorkshire Tremains Junior School Mid-Glamorgan Withernsea High School Humberside Award winners Beddington Infants, Surrey Brayton C of E Infants School North Yorkshire
Broom Leys County Primary School, Leicestershire Brighton Hill Community School, Hampshire Burhill County Infants, Surrey Cockfield VC Primary, Suffolk Darell Primary, Richmond Dedworth Green County First, Berkshire Demmings Infants, Stockport Godstone County First, Surrey Greens Norton Primary Northamptonshire Harrison Primary School Hampshire Hasland Hall Community School, Derbyshire Holmfirth County Primary Kirklees Ilfracombe Infants, Devon Isleham C of E Primary School, Cambridgeshire Kempsford C of E Primary School, Gloucestershire Kingsbrook, Northants King's Park, Dorset Lady Jane Grey Primary Leicestershire Lancasterian, Manchester Leysland High, Leics Mullion School, Cornwall Norwood County Primary Sefton Petworth Primary School West Sussex Poplar First School, Merton Priory Common County First Buckinghamshire Risca Primary, Gwent
Sacred Heart RC, Hillingdon St Pauls C of E Junior School, Kingston Swan Lane First , Hereford Thorner's C of E Primary Dorset Thurston C of E Primary Suffolk Tower JMISchool, Herts Wilby VC Primary, Suffolk Woodbridge County Primary Suffolk Woodham Walter, Essex Wyche C of E Primary Hereford and Worcester