Whose side are you on anyway?

27th January 2006 at 00:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

I am a fairly new parent governor and always try to sound out as many parents as I can about important decisions, and so far have had no problems. I know one cannot please everybody but you can get a good idea of how the wind is blowing. Now, however, something is worrying me very much.

There is a proposal to add a form entry to our one-form entry primary school.

We have a lovely building and the general rooms, especially the hall, are very big. The school was planned with possible population increase in mind, so we should only need a new classroom block with toilets, which could be done in the summer holiday. A wonderful new separate nursery unit is planned, with extra community facilities, which are much needed - the present nursery is an old hut.

But parents are protesting. Not all of them by any means, mostly the well-off families on an established estate of detached houses. Otherwise our housing is very mixed, a lot of 1930s semis, some old terrace homes and a small council estate.

The expansion is because more social housing is likely to be built near the school to rehouse families from run-down property a few miles away. The head and staff are enthusiastic - it is a super school where everyone is very positive and has a strong sense of community, and I am sure whatever they support will be well-managed and benefit all our children. I feel very much that I want to support it, but do I have to listen to the loudest voices, which I feel are just being snobbish?

Must I go with the most vocal of those who elected me when I believe in what the local education authority and the school are planning? Will the details of voting be published? And would I be doing an injustice to those who are against? It is coming up before half term.

Parent governors are representatives, not delegates, which means they listen and report the balance of opinion, and pass on any important points made in conversation. But when it comes to voting, they should weigh it all up, and do what they think is going to be best for the school.

You would probably feel better if you discussed it with your parent colleagues (you must have at least three and probably more) before crucial meetings take place. A two-form entry primary school does have some advantages for all both academically and socially, your conscience is clearly in favour, you have confidence in the staff who support it, and you are well placed to provide an encouraging voice in the community.

At the meeting it is as well to report that there is a certain amount of opposition, though I'm sure that everybody will know by then.

Anyway dissatisfied parents can obviously put their views to the local authority as well as the school.

When it comes to voting, secret ballots are seldom used and certainly would not be favoured for that sort of decision. The normal practice is a show of hands. In the minutes, the clerk might sometimes give numbers on each side but not names. Minutes are of course available in the school for anyone to see, with only highly confidential items excluded. Stand your ground and vote for what you believe is best for the children - all the children.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals.Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert where answers will appear. Joan Sallis's column now appears on this page every three weeks: see more answers on the TES website

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