Successful School Leaders say “Talk to your Parent Governors!”

A Parent governor cannot act as an advocate for a parent who complains and a governor’s reaction to any complaint will probably be “have you spoken about this to the class teacher and/or the Headteacher”? However, parent governors can play “a vital two-way communication role: as an ambassador for the school, informing and reassuring parents about the outcome of debates and governing body decisions, and in turn informing fellow governors about parental reactions to such decisions”.

A parent governor is required to put forward their own views to the governing body, rather than acting on behalf of the parent body, but they are in a good position to reflect back parental reactions to policy decisions to fellow governors and to the Headteacher.

It is generally accepted that a good relationship between parents and governors will benefit the whole school community. A former head teacher and chair of governors writes that:

The reasoning is simple: if governors know what parents want, they will be more able to deliver it; and if parents know what governors do and who they are, they can help to make the governing body itself more effective. These two groups within the school community have many common interests and much to offer each other. Together they have much to contribute to the enhancement of the school as a whole.

Then there’s the group of parent-governors. Parent-governors are, of course, exactly the same as any other governors; they don’t carry a special mandate to act or vote in any particular way. But it is usually assumed that parent-governors will have useful channels of communication with other parents, and that they will, informally at least, represent the sort of views commonly held by parents as a whole within your school. This is a channel of communication that needs to be exploited. Do your parent-governors ever meet together to discuss issues? Do they ever hold feedback meetings for parents? Do they attend PTA meetings to canvass opinions or convey information about proposals and decisions? Do they hold any kind of surgeries or clinics, to which parents can bring any anxieties, complaints or suggestions?

Governors should attend as many functions as possible – and not as VIPs! For example, in my own school, the governors staff the gate at the PTA’s annual summer fair. We organise the rota ourselves. It gives us a chance to meet people and often some serious discussion takes place”.

It’s very effective if governors maintain a presence in the playground at the beginning and end of the school day; especially those governors who are also parents. By so doing, you can pick up the latest concerns, give guidance to parents with complaints, and generally make it very clear that the governors are not some distant, aloof gathering of people who take important decisions and are rather above all this stuff directly involving children: but that you are a group of genuinely concerned people, who know what the school is really like, and are an active part of its community”.

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What parents want from schools: new report published

A new report into what parents really want from their schools, written by the education writer Fiona Millar, makes for very interesting reading. Her report for the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning, shows that parents have high expectations of their children’s schools. In it,

…a very clear, almost unanimous picture emerged of what that good local school should be like. Academic qualifications, good teaching and well managed behaviour matter hugely, and good levels of literacy and numeracy are particularly significant, but so too is the social and emotional development of pupils, their wellbeing and the opportunities to develop according to their specific personal or special needs.

And there is a clear hunger for more and different information than a league table or government data set will ever be capable of providing. Parents want a more rounded, balanced picture of how their children and their schools are performing and not just academically. Bullying, exclusions, behaviour management, the personal development and happiness of pupils, the views of other parents and even the CVs and qualification of heads and teachers were mentioned. Moreover they want that information regularly, in an easy to digest format, preferably directly from the school, either by text, email or via the school website.

And most significantly of all:

…everyone from headteachers to government ministers will need to listen carefully to what parents really want, rather than what they think we should have.

As the final, illuminating paragraph indicates, schools are now having to wake up to the fact that a more enlighted culture of parenting is emerging, one where parents are actively interested in addressing, assessing and monitoring their children’s education, are aware of the standard of provision that schools should be delivering, and are becoming more pro-active about addressing areas in which they perceive an issue. Communication between school and parent is vital: school websites in particular are expected to provide clear, relevant and useful information and to be regularly up-dated.

Read the full article here, and details of the report on the Pearson website here.