Governors sometimes tread a fine line between accountability to parents and maintaining confidentiality. This potential conflict can explode into suspicion and hostility - as happened at one London comprehensive. Simon Pirani describes how parents were initially barred from addressing governors. Kate Laydon of Greenwich Council explains why and Joan Sallis, the TES governors'expert, gives her assessment of the problem.
WHEN my daughter brought home a leaflet from the teachers' union saying the number of staff at her south London school was being cut by 23 - including 17 teachers, I was worried. There had been no warning, no hint at the governors' annual meeting four months previously. It was only after older pupils organised a protest march that the headteacher confirmed the cuts (without giving details) in a letter to parents.
The chair of governors and the head declined invitations to attend a packed campaign meeting. We wrote telling them to expect us at the next governors' meeting - when 120 parents and pupils gathered at the school. The chairman invited us into the hall to face a panel: himself, two other governors, the headteacher, and a clerk. Other governors were ushered into another room.
My question was: why can't we meet the whole governing body? It's not possible, he replied, mentioning something about the danger of appeals procedures being prejudiced.
Most people wanted to express their anger about the cuts. But I got fixated. We should have been able to address ALL the governors about such an important issu.
I wrote to the chairman, asking on what authority he stopped us meeting all the governors. The cuts could ultimately mean redundancies (although the head had assured us that staff reductions would be voluntary or by non-renewal of temporary contracts) and some governors might have to hear appeals, he replied.
They should hear nothing that might prejudice them. He quoted employment legislation and advice from Greenwich council.
I wrote to the head, who referred me to the Department for Education and Employment. I quoted governor regulations which state that access to meetings for non-governors "shall be determined by that body". In other words, not by the chair alone.
The DFEE said the regulation applied only "to attendance at full governing body meetings" and not other meetings - so the chairman had not transgressed, but we wanted access to a full governing body meeting.
The next governors' meeting, two months later, did receive a parents' deputation and we put our case forcefully. They heard us politely, asked no questions, and later accepted a report mapping out the cuts. No one spoke for or against. They didn't even vote on the issue.
There is a moral here for parents seeking to influence decisions affecting their children's
If someone quotes
regulations, they may be misquoting. If someone says "you can't", you probably can. Act
collectively and don't give up.
Simon Pirani is a parent of a pupil at Crown Woods comprehensive, Eltham, London.