Sunday, 3 October 2010

Governors and Parent School Governors. The Power of Ignorance

It's interesting, don't you think the power of governors to make decisions and think they have every right to speak for others.

It was nearly two decades ago that I was press-ganged into being a parent-governor at Royal Park School, and here I met, for the second time in my life an institution based around professional integrity. The first such place was Foxwood School, Leeds.

Usually, the letters come home, parents put themselves forward and parent-governors are elected. I don’t know how many stand for election beyond the ring road in areas of relative affluence, but, here in the inner-city, we weren't tripping over each other. And, anyway, what parent has any idea or any confidence that they could make a meaningful contribution to the debates? A teacher, myself, I had no such confidence, especially since primary education [one teacher does all subjects] was so very different to my high school experience [different teachers for different subjects, except for the cross-over all-trade jacks].

Well, I needn’t have worried. The Royal Park governing body knew its stuff. As a full-time teacher, five miles away in Seacroft I was rarely able to get over to Hyde Park during the school day, but there were any number of evening events - the meetings of course, socials, performances, parents evenings, open evenings, pre-inspection visits. Governors were expected to be a regular part of the school, were and reminded by letter and by telephone about all events. And living a quarter of a mile down the road, you could get to them all.

Ah, but that was the old days before the unlikely concept that was “surplus places” put an end to so many good, solid, reliable, local primary schools, especially in Leeds. Ah, Education Leeds' departing gift. Thanks, so sorry to see you go [not].

I think all parents contemplating becoming a governor are right to be nervous. You may spend some meetings just listening and getting the feel for it all; you may go to the governor training sessions, which you may find relevant and interesting [not always both!], but come back to school and speak about them? Without feeling stupid?

Rita did rule Royal Park with a rod of informed iron, but she did know how to put you at your ease. And it was always she who made us our cups of tea - an important symbolic gesture. In fact, very early on in the debate we nearly voted not to publish our SATS results. And the head teacher’s report did not generally involve one person talking for over thirty minutes!

And having described how little I really knew while this masterpiece of a school tried so hard to educate myself and all the other governors, only one or two [depends on size of school] of whom was ever a teacher, I am writing to remind us all of the power and the responsibility that lies with a school’s governing body and how it is disproportionate to its members' knowledge and experience.

In fact their ignorant acquiescence to such ideas as academies, for example, makes governors potentially very dangerous indeed. Simply by being a parent does not mean that you speak for other parents. Being won over yourself by the opinionated and ambitious heads does not mean that other parents are won over. And being a parent in 2010 doesn’t anyone the right to trash the local central educational services for the children of 2020.

In the case of the two Garforth schools with outstanding Ofsteds, with plans to academise. this seems to be built on the desires of a handful of people [Michael Gove, the head and the governors]. The teachers don’t want it, and the parents have not been given the information to make any sort of informed decision. Miriam and I, along side other members of the teaching unions spent a couple of happy hours on Saturday afternoon in Garforth Town Street, handing out leaflets for a meeting designed to give parents all the information and have that debate [see pics, especially Miriam outside the well-named shop: The Lady Cares]. As one parent observed, the school should have had that meeting.

They believe they have two of the best schools in the country So, what more do they want? And at whose expense? And don’t you think that a little bit of not getting it all might just do our little ones some good?

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