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Should parents sit on the Board of Governors?

If you are a parent with a problem or grievance with your child’s school, you are required to follow the schools complaint’s procedure. Currently, this is a standard procedure for most schools and once you have raised the matter with the head, if the problem is not resolved, you are then required to take the matter to the Board of Governors. There is no escaping either stage in this process and until you have completed each one, you cannot take the matter elsewhere.  If you try to take your case to your Local Education Authority, the Department of Education or Ombudsman, unless you have followed these steps, it will automatically be referred back to your school’s Board of Governors. 

For parents, this process is very uncomfortable and can be very stressful. Confrontation is difficult at the best of times, but the school complaint’s procedure brings into play a whole different ball-game. Given that a school’s Board of Governors comprises parents of children at the school, by default, this brings with it an immediate confidentiality issue and a potential conflict of interest.  Furthermore, there is also the question of whether parent governors represent the views of the parent or of the school.  For these reasons alone, having parent governors on the school board makes for an unethical set-up, introducing significant risk of breaches in confidentiality and introducing an element of bias. Whilst there are no doubt governors who will dispute these claims, there are many who will agree that these issues present a very real and serious problem to parents and cannot be ignored.

My School Gate has listened to the testimonies of many parents who have encountered problems with the current complaints procedure, and unfortunately, the end result has often been that they have had to take their child out of the school.  Many parents opt to withdraw their child from school prior to a hearing with their Board of Governors as they have little faith in this process and often believe it will exacerbate the matter.  By taking an issue to the Board of Governors, you are effectively implying that the head has failed to sort the matter out.  You could even go as far as saying it is, in effect, a direct criticism of the head.

The problems associated with the current set-up of the Board of Governors are best demonstrated by examples of the types of experiences parents have been forced to endure.  We have chosen two particular examples which we believe effectively highlight the endemic problems of the current system in confidentiality, ethics and bias.  We have changed the names of the individuals in these case studies to protect their identity.

Case 1: Bias and Ethics

Julia’s son Elliot, age 7, had just started his new junior school.  After a couple of weeks, he started complaining of stomach aches and didn’t want to go to school.  His mum thought it was just a settling-in issue and that he hadn’t got used to his new environment yet.  By his fourth week, Elliott would become quite upset and plead with her that he was too ill to go to school.  This was totally uncharacteristic of Elliot who had loved school until now, which prompted his mum to go in and talk to his teacher.  The teacher seemed very unsupportive, and brushed the matter aside as if it wasn’t anything to worry about.  Elliot’s behaviour continued and escalated over the next few weeks, and eventually Elliot started to mention a couple of boys who were picking on him, calling him names and excluding him from playing with them.   Julia talked to a couple of other mums at the school and found out that Elliot was indeed the victim of some nasty bullying by a couple of boys.  Their own children had come home with stories of Elliot crying in the playground and often wandering around alone while these boys tormented him.  Julia had a heart to heart with Elliot and he told her that there were two boys, Ben and Ed, who hadn’t been very nice to him since he started school.  Apparently, Ben was the ring leader and Ed followed along and copied Ben.  The next day, Julia went to see the head teacher.  The meeting was surprisingly short, and the head seemed irritated and uncomfortable about the situation rather than empathetic towards Elliot. The head suggested that Julia talk to Elliot’s teacher, as she herself didn’t have much interaction with the children during class and break times and it would be better resolved via the class teacher.  Julia, now somewhat confused and upset by the lack of concern for her son’s welfare, asked a couple of friends what she should do.  They were incensed by Julia’s experience and suggested she approach the school’s board of governors.  A week later, when Julia pursued the matter with the board of governors, all became clear.  She was introduced to the chair of governors, recognising this woman as Ben’s mother.

 Case 2: Confidentiality

At the age of thirteen, Suzanne’s daughter Sarah, after a difficult few years, was diagnosed with depression.  She was prescribed medication but from time to time, her illness would get the better of her and she would self-harm.  Her mother chose to tell Sarah’s school about her condition as she felt Sarah needed additional support and understanding and as a result, the matter was discussed at a governors meeting. One of the governors, who had a daughter in Sarah’s class, talked to her daughter about Sarah, and within a week, the entire class knew about her situation.  Rather than show empathy and kindness towards Sarah, some of the girls in the class started a bullying campaign and eventually Sarah was forced to leave the school.  It was a terrible time for both Sarah and her mother, and continued for the best part of a year until Sarah left. 

Both these case studies demonstrate that having parent-governors, who have children at the school, can be a serious cause for concern. Interestingly, of the many parent-governors we speak to, most of them appreciate that confidentiality is a very significant problem and have told us of similar situations that they have witnessed. 

As of August 2012, any parent who is unhappy with the way in which their complaint or grievance is dealt with by their Board of Governors can take their complaint to the Secretary of State.  The current complaints system is changing and as Julie Jewers of the Department for Education explains:  ‘This will allow parents to raise their complaint with (the) Secretary of State, if it is not resolved satisfactorily by the school, regardless of where they live, or the nature of the complaint. These changes will come into effect on 1 August 2012.’

My School Gate has contacted the Secretary of State’s Office for further clarification as to how this process will operate, given the vast number of complaints received each year by the various bodies that currently handle them. At this time, the Office has failed to respond, but you can be sure we will publish the new guidelines once we receive them.

If you have experienced any of the problems highlighted in this article at your school, we would be interested in hearing about them.

Article of interest: Guardian: Justine Greening drops plan to scrap parent governors in schools

 

Comments

concern

7th July 2012 at 7:26 am

Your article approaches this issue from the wrong angle. A breach of confidentiality is a serious matter regardless of the status of a governor. Furthermore, if any governor is told the name of children being discussed, then the Head is not acting appropriately.There is no need for names to be used, nor sufficient detail for an identity to be obvious.

As a parent governor, I have never, ever, shared details of meetings I have attended, not even as a post on a forum.

patricia

7th July 2012 at 10:14 am

It is difficult for a parent to remain anonymous to governors when their meeting is with the board of governors. And when the parent and governor are known to each other (for example, if their children are in the same class), the child’s identity is automatically revealed.

Fiona

7th July 2012 at 12:32 pm

I would agree that this is a significant issue. A father who is a parent governor was called into our school recently and told he should no longer discuss matters concerning the school with his wife. The school had received complaints from parents that his wife was gossiping about some sensitive issues that had been discussed at a recent governor meeting. I know this because his wife told one of my friends about it, which in itself is entirely inappropriate. I don’t think anyone should underestimate the level and detail of gossip that takes place at school gates, and this goes for members of staff who are friends with parents outside of school. It is a real and very widespread problem.

Helen

9th July 2012 at 8:48 am

Re: concern’s message
I understand what you are saying but I think the point the article is making is that parent governors who have relationships with parents at the school (rather than say LEA or community governors from businesses etc) are more likely to introduce confidentility issues because they have personal relationships with other parents at the school. I also think it would be wrong to assume all parent governors take the confidentiality issue as seriously as others.

Rachel

9th July 2012 at 8:23 pm

I think breaches in confidentiality resulting from parent governor relationships with other parents in their school is a very widespread issue. Moreso than people would like to think. I am a parent and a governor, but not at my children’s school. I don’t agree that parents with children at a school should actually sit on their Board of Governors. There should be a parent committee (separate from the pta) who liaise with the governors, so confidential matters can remain confidential whilst parents can have input into meetings when needed.

Merri

10th July 2012 at 8:13 am

Confidentiality is a real issue at my children’s school. There are four parent governors with children at the school, which has caused a few problems in the past, but there is an even bigger issue with parents who work in the school. Everyone seems to know everything about what’s going on, from personal details about teachers and staff, to specifics about certain children. It is truly awful. I can see why the schoolgate is often referred to as the ‘real playground’. I think having a separate committee for parents to have input into governor meetings would be a much better idea, but I also think instances where parents working in the school breach confidentiality should be treated very severely eg instant dismissal.

Denise

5th August 2012 at 9:32 am

We have a very significant problem with confidentiality at our school and there has been a case recently where a parent had to remove her child because of it. Her son was being bullied by a teacher and she ended up going to the board of governors about it. Unfortunately, one of the parent govenors was very close friends with the teacher concerned and took it upon herself to make this mother’s life hell by spreading gossip about her. It got so out of control, eventually the parent couldn’t handle it anymore, so she moved her son to a different school. I really empathise with anyone who is forced to take a matter to their govenors – it is a very difficult decision to make as, from what I hear, it often doesn’t work out in the best interest of the child.

mumofthree

18th August 2012 at 6:42 pm

Unfortunately, parent govenors are people, and we all know how much people love to gossip. You just have to look at how successful twitter is (something I can’t quite get my head around). I have a friend who is a parent govenor at her children’s school and she relishes opportunities to tell us all the ‘confidential’ stuff that goes on at her school. She constantly name drops and although it doesn’t mean anything to me as my children are at a different school, a couple of our friends kids go there so they know exactly who she is talking about. In my mind, it is totally unprofessional, and if I were to behave like this in my workplace I would be instantly suspended and probably fired.

David

28th August 2012 at 8:20 am

It’s interesting reading all the comments and as a parent govenor myself I would have to agree that confidentiality is a real problem. We have had a couple of issues at our school regarding one particular parent governor who had rather loose lips. She created a huge amount of stress for one parent inparticular who was having a hard time with her son at the school. It was a very unpleasant affair and the parent ended up moving her son to another school which was far from ideal for her and her son but things got so out of control she didn’t really have a choice. Incredibly, the govenor is still on our board and is still very careless with words. That is putting it politely.

Joella

24th October 2015 at 12:52 pm

My nephew is having great problems at school. He does have some behavioural issues, however, he is being “goaded” by two other children. The parent of one of these children is best friends with the Deputy Head. Her husband is also Head Parent Governor. The other child is the child of the Deputy Head, who is well known for lacking in confidentiality. Complaining to the Governors on this occasion will end up stressful for my sister and without a doubt, be around the school in a matter of minutes. It’s a difficult decision. Parent governor or not?

susan

17th November 2015 at 6:56 pm

my son has been physical attack by being bitten on his face and has come home with black eyes after talking to the headteacher she was very condersending ! laughing in our faces when we said our son was being bullied so we got the police to come out who charged the other boy with gbh with took our complant to the governers as the attacks have not been recored at all at the school by the headteacher which is breeching the anti-bullying policy and also if the 1st attacks had been recored the 2nd and 3rd attacks could of been prevented by using the safe gaurding policys we also had doctors letters saying our son was in danger but still the governers would not support us and ask why the school headteacher had not followed school policys and nothing was done it is all biased in the end we have moved our son as we had no other option as we feared for his safty i cant understand why teachers clearly breech there own policys and are untoucable and corrupt the whole education system needs a overhaul

 

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