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Undemocratic head thinks he knows the law

Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

Although some of us used to get very frustrated at the small attendance at parents' annual meetings after so much hard work, I am beginning to see now how important it was that they took place. I would like your views on what has happened in our school because it seems to me that the whole idea is dead in the water.

We have a new head who, though he professes to be very democratic, does not have much time for governors or parents, and there are now a lot of issues to do with school organisation, information and accountability which are causing some unrest. We did a very full report but combined it with our prospectus, which is, I know, now legal, but it doesn't get the same notice taken of it. Then unknown to us, the head sent out a letter saying that there would be a meeting of parents if sufficient people indicated their intention to attend by a certain date. Barely a week later he wrote to all parents saying that there wouldn't be a meeting (i) because not enough had replied and (ii) because we had had a meeting of parents in the summer about the new uniform with quite a good attendance and this exempted us. Is this (a) legal and (b) right?

I feel like saying just "no" on both counts, because it is such undemocratic behaviour. But the rules on annual meetings have been considerably relaxed, and your head has read enough of the new regulations to believe he is on the right side of the law. But I don't think he is. He is relying on the list of exemptions from the requirement to hold an annual meeting, and these include the failure to get more than 15 pupils' parents to indicate their intention to attend within seven days of the invitation.

But he has overlooked the fact that it is a governing body initiative to send the invitation and a governing body's duty to respond to the outcome.

Even when the condition for exemption is fulfilled you still have discretion as a governing body. His decision to go for another ground for exemption is clever, but it ignores the wording of the exemption in question, which says that the previous meeting had to have afforded parents an opportunity to ask general questions about the running of the school, and I would not consider that a meeting to introduce a new uniform qualified.

Like you I am not very impressed with these new government measures on annual meetings. They are skilful, but they do leave many loopholes for those who don't want to encourage parent interest. The avowed intent was to encourage new and more interesting ways of involving parents, which is admirable, but schools which were so minded were already working on that without the need for new regulations, while heads who don't want to encourage debate at all will have a field day with these clever exemptions.

Yours wasn't quite clever enough, however.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see

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