Parent Governors - Anything but 'Symbolic'

Old School Desk

Drowned out by the contentious budget and announcement that all schools will be made to become academies, there's a chance that you may have missed the Government's announcement last week that it was abolishing parent governors.

It is, however, a radical and hugely detrimental change to the way our schools are run and shouldn't escape our attention.

Legislation compelling schools to include parent governors on their governing body was passed in 1980. As Jonathan Freedland has said "parents elected by their fellow parents has entrenched what was once seen as an essential part of running a public service: the voice of the user."

So what's driving the Government's action? This is what the White Paper says: "We will expect all governing boards to focus on seeking people with the right skills for governance, and so we will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards."

There is nothing wrong with demanding a "skills-based" approach to governance. Effective governance is a key ingredient in the success of any school. But I must have missed the bit where we suddenly assumed that parents don't have skills. What exactly is it about having children that de-skills you, I wonder?

In Hammersmith and Fulham, where I am Cabinet Member for Education, some of the most hard-working, committed and yes, skilled, governors I know are our parent governors.

Take Vic Daniels, Chair of Governors at one of our secondary schools. Vic gives up a huge amount of time every week to strategically guide the school through a complex period - it is currently converting to become an academy. This (unpaid post) takes 1-2 days per week of his time. In addition to this, because his skills have been recognised by others, Vic's also been asked to Chair the School Improvement Board of another local school and he's been asked to join the Trust Board of an academy chain. Oh, and he's also been elected to the Council's education scrutiny committee - again because of the skills he's demonstrated as a Governor. Vic, by the way, is a parent governor.

Or Fiona Mylchreest, vice-chair of Governors at our outstanding Queensmill School for children and young people with autism. Fiona's commitment to the school takes up 5-6 hours of her time every week. And when the former administration in Hammersmith and Fulham outsourced our passenger transport service for children with special needs to disastrous consequences, it was Fiona who helped bring the issue to the attention of a wider audience. And when the new administration set up a working party of local parents, governors and teachers to help us sort the issue and it was Fiona we asked to Chair the group. Fiona is also a parent governor.

So, for me, one of the most offensive statements in the White Paper is this one: "Our approach puts parents and children first, not through symbolic representation on a governing board". Parental representation on governing boards is anything but symbolic. At so many schools, it is the parent governors who turn up for every meeting, are always in and around the school, mobilise the local community when the school needs to campaign on a planning issue, and bring the most "in-touch" perspective to issues discussed by the governing body.

Vic and Fiona and the thousands of parent governors across the country giving up hours of their time every week to help run the schools they care about deeply don't deserve to be denounced as "symbolic" - they deserve our sincerest thanks. And the Government should think again before it gets rid of parent governors, one of the most effective elements of our school governance.

Sue Macmillan is Cabinet Member for Children and Education on Hammersmith and Fulham Council

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