to think that parents should have a voice in how their primary school is run?

(49 Posts)
OxfordToLondoner Fri 16-Nov-12 10:26:38

DS has recently started school, and I have several questions/thoughts about how the school is run. For example
- With an intake of 44 children, why have they decided to put them all in one classroom (with 2 teachers...so, we're lucky the ratio is low, but the classroom environment is ridiculously cramped).
- Why his school doesn't participate in Forest Schools, when lots of other local schools do
When I've asked the school (by email - i work full time and don't get the chance to actually see the teachers/head usually) I get polite 'this is how it is' answers, but I feel frustrated that there doesn't seem to be any kind of forum for parents to actually discuss these issues. For example, an additional parents evening, where we get the chance to chat about the school, rather than the children.
What do other schools do? Do I have to become a Governor to have any kind of say? Do I just have to lump it?

PoppadomPreach Fri 16-Nov-12 10:32:56

become a governor. but remember that you will have to make choices which are to the benefit of the school (ie ALL the children) and not just your own.

Spatsky Fri 16-Nov-12 10:35:18

I see "be me a governr" a lot on herd. Becoming a governor isn't always that easy, I don't know about other schools but I ours there are always many more parents wanting to be governors than spaces and we end up with elections which, frankly, a working parent that doesn't really know other parents wouldn't have a prayer of winning.

Spatsky Fri 16-Nov-12 10:35:36

Become a governor

Bellebois Fri 16-Nov-12 10:39:16

I always find it interesting that parents feel that they are qualified to tell professional teachers how to do their job, even though they have no prior experience or qualification in the education sector... I presume you would extend this expectation to doctors, lawyers, business people?
Personally, as a primary school teacher, my worst nightmare would be a school which is run on the whim of parents. Parents have their own agenda - their child..... Not the 300 or so other children, which it is the Head's job to focus on and make decisions for.
I think YABU.

DeWe Fri 16-Nov-12 10:46:06

If you have parental debate on that sort of thing you will end up with 40% on one side, 40% on the other and 10% with other ideas, some of which are off the wall but the parent is totally passionate and won't give up the idea, and 10% couldn't give a stuff.
Really it isn't feasable.
And the school has to make choices sometimes they don't like. Do they dismiss the TA and get the desperately needed new reading books, or do they cope with the books that are held together very badly and keep a TA. Someone will be unhappy whatever, but a decision has to be made.

Parents will go for the option that they think will be best for their child. The school has to consider all children.

One local community group everyone has a say in anything. This meant a 3 hour meeting to discuss the colour of the new carpet. You'd be amazed how uptight people can get about the colour of a carpet, but I believe the meeting was heated and brought to a close with difficulties, and people were talking about leaving the group over the final decision hmm

schoolgovernor Fri 16-Nov-12 10:48:17

Well, we struggle to recruit parent governors, but that varies from school to school.
Forest Schools looks quite an expensive option to me. Maybe the school doesn't feel it's a good use of their budget and that they don't need an innovative approach to outdoor learning?
Schools are accountable for the attainment and progress of all the children in the school, so if they are running a class with 44 children and two teachers there will be a good reason and they'll be confident that it will work.

steppemum Fri 16-Nov-12 10:53:06

Interesting points

Some of this is parent governors territory. You don't need to be one, you can talk to your current one, and ask them to put your points forward.

Some things may have been discussed in the past and you have missed them because you are new parent. Some are costing decisions eg forest school costs, school may have decided to spend money elsewhere. eg in our school music is very well done compared to other schools, but that is a funding choice they have made (which I happen to like)

Some school do have a parent forum, so each class has a class rep and there are regular forum meetings.
Some schools use the PTA as a sounding board (ours doesn't)

Some schools are open to parents and welcome input. Others don't (ours isn't very good at communicating with parents, but they are a good school, and you have to decide which is better. Sometimes it really is time spent with parents v. time spent with kids. Schools are not perfect and there are compromises to be made)

Startail Fri 16-Nov-12 10:54:06

We had a parents council you could get to raise issues.

Joining the PTA lets you into the local gossip.

Some is informative and useful, some of it is inaccurate nonsense. So you do have to be able to judge.

Hearing readers and helping in school can also be a great way to see what goes on.

Being a governor lets you see the staffing and financial reasons behind the scenes. However, day to day management is still the HTs job. DF complains that as a governor she say has to say yes even when she disagrees.

Therefore, in the end if you don't understand something you need to ask the class teacher or the HT why it is so.

Easy at the DDs small primary you just wandered in and asked.

If the HT was being a twit you politely told him so as he walked back in from taking the bus DCs out.

At senior school you send Emails to the relevant people. It's a huge place so major changes are unlikely, but they have been great at things that just affect DD.

schoolgovernor Fri 16-Nov-12 11:22:32

All of the information given to the governing body, unless it's confidential because it refers to individuals, is a matter of public record. You can ask to see the public minutes of the governing body meetings and meetings of any committees. The summary information on the budget forms part of the minutes. That might give you an insight into the financial situation of the school.
This isn't really a matter of something being "parent governors' territory" because the the governing body is a corporate group with corporate responsibility. What I mean is, you don't need to seek out a parent governor to ask your question. Why don't you contact the school, or speak to a member of the governing body in the playground if you recognise them, and ask what forums the school has for parental engagement?

OxfordToLondoner Fri 16-Nov-12 12:08:51

Thanks, all that's really helpful. I'm not trying to be a pain in the arse parent, I just would appreciate a forum to ask questions, with other parents, and not feel that it's never going to be listened too. I actually think my head is rather wonderful, and is the reason i chose the school. I'm thinking of becoming a Governor next year, but thought I'd do my year of the fundraising side first, so I can show the school that I am interested in actively helping, not just meddling.

MagiMingeWassailsAgain Fri 16-Nov-12 12:12:39

I'm thinking of becoming a Governor next year, but thought I'd do my year of the fundraising side first, so I can show the school that I am interested in actively helping, not just meddling

Can I suggest you don't put this on your application when you are hoping to get elected? grin

FWIW I became a governor because I hate fundraising but love to meddle. So, ner. grin

WorraLiberty Fri 16-Nov-12 12:16:23

Blimey, Governors do not 'meddle'...they're an asset to the school generally.

Does the school have a PTA/Parent's council?

If not, you could always start one instead of fundraising.

ConferencePear Fri 16-Nov-12 12:22:41

44 children and two teachers in one room ? It sounds to me as if the school is very short of space. Are you sure that it is two teachers and not a teacher and a teaching assistant ? Is there a room elsewhere in the school that is empty ? You need to consider all of this before suggesting that the school could be run better.

WorraLiberty Fri 16-Nov-12 12:25:28

If the whole school only has an intake of 44 children, they'll have a very small budget.

Therefore, it's normally cost effective to do that as they can share resources.

cornflakegirl Fri 16-Nov-12 12:34:16

Our school used to have a 1.5 form intake (recently increased) and we had one classroom with two teachers. It makes sense because the children move about so much accessing all the different areas - water play, home area, movement area - you wouldn't really want to have to provide double of everything. Plus reception classes often have toilets within them, so again having both classes together would make this simpler and cheaper.

I'm a school governor, and it's great. I understand so much more about the really hard decisions that the HT and the leadership team have to take. It's opened my eyes.

steppemum Fri 16-Nov-12 14:36:58

our school reception intake is 60. The accomodation is one large classroom. It was 2 classrooms in the past, so it is big enough, but it is arranged so the children move around the whole space.

IMHO 44 is not a small intake. it is 1.5 form intake. Many schools in our city have one form intake - 30 kids. The rural school my dcs used to go to had an intake of 8 and just 2 classes, one infant one junior. Now that is a small school!

greensmoothiegoddess Fri 16-Nov-12 14:46:44

2 teachers to 44 Rec pupils is an excellent ratio. They would have to be actual teachers as well with that quantity of pupils. Sounds like the whole set up is geared for an open planned EYFS environment. Don't forget they will have an outdoor area too and I wonder if you are taking account of this space?

What does it say on the Ofsted report about the EYFS?

To be honest it sounds like a pretty good and normal set up to me.

CailinDana Fri 16-Nov-12 14:50:18

While I definitely think you should be able to raise concerns about your own child's education I think it's going too far to expect to question management decisions that you don't agree with. A school is a professional organisation run by competent people who don't take decisions lightly. Expecting a school to be run by committee with possibly hundreds of parents objecting left right and centre to every decision is a recipe for chaos. You need to trust that funding decisions like whether to join Forest Schools and space decisions like the classroom issue are taken based on a large body of information that you're not privvy to and that it's the best decision given the circumstances. Basically as a parent it's not your job to tell trained professionals how to do a job that you've never done. I doubt you would advise your doctor's surgery on the correct size of room for the nurse's clinic or whether they should join a particular scheme. You would assume they know what they're doing. Wouldn't you?

OutragedAtThePriceOfFreddos Fri 16-Nov-12 14:54:11

Being a governor would be a good idea.

You have to realise that while staff at the school may be open to ideas from about how they run, there are plenty of teachers that have their own brilliant ideas too, and there is only so much time and money that a school has to put on these things. Listening to you is one thing, but doing what you tell them to do is another. Schools just don't have the resources to do what every parent wants, and not should they as the majority of parents aren't teachers.

If you want to help, the PTA is the way forward, but if you want to see things happen, you have to be prepared to do some/most of the work towards it yourself. You can't just make suggestions and then expect teachers to implement them. You also need to remember that the teachers are likely to have a better idea about what is needed most urgently than you have.

I would lose the idea of expecting teachers to give up another of their evenings to be in school to listen to you. They already do more than they are paid to do, and you asking them to do more is not likely to be well received.

whois Fri 16-Nov-12 14:54:58

Personally, as a primary school teacher, my worst nightmare would be a school which is run on the whim of parents. Parents have their own agenda - their child..... Not the 300 or so other children, which it is the Head's job to focus on and make decisions for.

^this

DamnBamboo Fri 16-Nov-12 14:55:05

Why do you think you're qualified to tell professional educators how to run a school?

ihavenofuckingclue Fri 16-Nov-12 14:57:05

why does having a child make you an expert on schools then?

And that's the reason why schools are not run on the parents whims.

OxfordToLondoner Fri 16-Nov-12 15:00:00

I didn't mean I wanted to suggest that they're not making the right decisions (I understand the reasoning behind the classroom and Forest School decision), my point was that AIBU to think that Parents should be able to have a voice i.e. to ask questions and make suggestions for the Head to consider, but of-course not dictate. Interesting and helpful answers all...I will definitely apply for a Governorship next year, so I can at least be part of the debate.

Bonsoir Fri 16-Nov-12 15:00:34

I think it is good practice for schools to regularly ask parents how they feel about a whole host of issues in order to gauge satisfaction. It is important that a sizeable proportion of parents respond to surveys to ensure that all views are represented.

Schools also need to have transparent and truthful responses to reasonable questions and to concerns that are raised repeatedly. Everyone can understand that some problems don't have workable solutions and that a school is doing the best it can in the circumstances. Silence/refusal to answer is not acceptable and makes parents anxious that the school is hiding the truth.

yellowsubmarine53 Fri 16-Nov-12 15:00:48

Well, there are certain things that I think parents should have some input into ie what they need to build a home-school partnership, how best to convey information home.

I also think there are some things that parents are entitled to be given reasonable explanations for if they ask ie why have 44 children in one classroom, what was behind the decision to not buy into the Forest School scheme. Explanations, even if one doesn't agree with them, help people feel part of a process.

Happypiglet Fri 16-Nov-12 15:04:00

The Governing Body should be consulting with parents as a minimum once a year. This is usually in the form of a questionnaire about your child(ren)'s experiences of the school. Most will probably have an 'any other comments box'. This form is often sent out in July.
Being a governor is not a forum for you to push through your own ideas. Governing Bodies are responsible to the children, parents and other stakeholders for the performance of the school and also are their to consider strategy both short and long term. As a Governor my main responsibility is to the children. Not to represent another body. So although I am a church Governor at my school I am not there to peruse a church agenda although the school may use my expertise in the area to help them. Similarly parent governors are not their 'to represent' the parents.
some GBs have Parent Forums. We decided to hold off as we have much more pressing matters to deal with. That will benefit all children.

maybenow Fri 16-Nov-12 15:06:05

Does your school not have any social activities where adults mingle and chat? I would have thought most schools would have fundraisers or other parent-teacher events where you can ask about stuff like this?

For the one-class thing in infants, could you not ask at your parent's evening? You could say 'wow it seems cramped, what are the advantages of all sharing the one classrom?' - quick question, easily asked, no acusations involved.

Forest school needs at least one really passionate teacher - it doesn't work if it doesn't come from the teaching staff, and i think most probably have enough on their plate but i'm sure if you wanted to volunteer to run an after-school or saturday gardening, nature or science club then that would be a step towards that.

takataka Fri 16-Nov-12 15:06:39

The head cane be spending time Q&Aing all the parents in a school

piprabbit Fri 16-Nov-12 15:06:43

In addition to Parent Governors and the PTA (who raise money to support some initiatives), my DCs school also have a Parent Forum. Parents can raise issues and ideas with their class rep (also a parent) who will then raise it at the next forum for discussion. I don't think there is anything to stop other parents (i.e. the ones who aren't class reps) also attending the forum meetings - the idea of the reps is to ensure that parents have an access to the forum even if they are unable to attend meetings (due to working/childcare etc.)

Perhaps you could suggest something similar to the school.

CailinDana Fri 16-Nov-12 15:15:24

Oxford, who do you think should devote hours of their time to answering emails/letters etc from the parents? And do you think that time and resources should be diverted away from teaching so that parents can "have a voice"? Do you think that justifying and explaining decisions to people who are not part of the organisation and therefore not entirely au fait with how it works is a good use of very limited budgets? You are one parent, and you had two questions - do you think the management team have time to answer two questions every term from every parent?

Teachers are already massively overstretched and already have to justify every little thing they do, fill in mounds and mounds of (mostly unnecessary) paperwork, to the detriment of actual teaching and preparation time. Expecting them to do even more than that, and to endlessly explain perfectly ordinary everyday decisions to every parent is completely unreasonable and shows a total lack of understanding of the pressure schools are under.

Bonsoir Fri 16-Nov-12 18:30:24

CailinDana - you are wrong. Schools need to provide answers to reasonable questions from parents. A good way to do this is to have a FAQ section on the school website. Recurrent questions can be answered there and the FAQ can be regularly updated as needs be.

Euphemia Fri 16-Nov-12 18:37:47

In Scotland, schools are judged on how they engage with parents. We are required to prove that we involve parents in decision-making. More detail at the How Good Is Our School? pages.

TheFallenMadonna Fri 16-Nov-12 18:38:26

You asked the questions and they were answered. Do you think asking them in a meeting rather than by email is mire likely to get them to go with your suggestions?

TheFallenMadonna Fri 16-Nov-12 18:41:19

My DC's primary school has parent working parties on things Luke homework and reports, and my DS's secondary has parent forums where potential changes are discussed. They all have a particular focus though, rather than an open forum.

herhonesty Fri 16-Nov-12 18:47:37

Becoming a governor clearly isn't an option for everyone, but of you don't feel your questions aren't being answered by the HT appropriately, in the first instance, you should talk to one of the governors, probably the parent governor allocated to your child's year group if there is one.

CailinDana Fri 16-Nov-12 18:50:46

Bonsoir most schools have newsletters for relevant information. I agree with you about reasonable questions. But IMO asking questions about budgetary or space issues is going to far - these are management decisions and the school staff have better things to do than explain their every move.

AChickenCalledKorma Fri 16-Nov-12 20:38:59

We've had a parents' forum for about 18 months. It is exactly what you are talking about - a forum where parents can talk about issues that they are confused/concerned about. It is attended by the Head and/or Deputy Head and the Business Manager. Sometimes they bring issues that they want a parents' view on (notably when they were rewriting the homework policy). Sometimes it is more a matter of giving the staff the opportunity to explain why they do the things they do. And that filters out to the playground, so there is more chance of the parent body feeling well-informed and therefore more accepting when things change at school. And sometimes parents bring up new ideas that the school is very happy to introduce (e.g. ideas about better ways to run sports day, suggestions for new clubs etc).

There is cross-over with the Governing body, because a couple of the parent governors are also regular attendees at the forum meetings. But the forum is much more accessible - you don't have to be elected or commit to lots and lots of meetings. People can drop in if there is something they want to air.

For the first couple of meetings, it was a bit negative, with everyone bring up their pet hobby horses. But it has settled down and matured into a very constructive meeting.

Bonsoir Fri 16-Nov-12 20:45:30

When space issues impact learning or otherwise cause discomfort for children, then parents have every right to raise their concerns and receive a fair answer.

Newsletters are good for informing parents of ad hoc issues, but a FAQ is a much better way of answering recurring questions (and 95% of parents' questions are recurring, IME).

JamieandtheMagicTorch Fri 16-Nov-12 20:47:31

I agree with Bellebois

Bellebois Sat 17-Nov-12 01:36:27

Schools also need to have transparent and truthful responses to reasonable questions and to concerns that are raised repeatedly
I agree, to a point, but there may well be sensitive staffing issues(maternity leave,sick leave etc) that are not for the public forum, even colleagues can be left out of the loop at times as management are not allowed to say. So,sometimes decisions are made in schools (and I guess any organisation)which can't be explained to the general public due to privacy concerns.

Pourquoimoi Sat 17-Nov-12 02:05:18

Sorry but I think you are being unreasonable to think every parent should have a say. After all, there are twice as many parents as children in the school (roughly) and there is no way the staff have enough time to listen to all comments and potentially act on them.

If you are genuinely interested in how the school is run, become a governor. Just make sure you realise it is a lot of time and commitment only for many people to think you are just meddling.

I have been a governor for 6.5yrs now and it takes a fair bit of time to give it the attention it deserves but it is also very rewarding. Not an easy job though and particularly difficult when you have to make a decision for the good of the whole school when you know it is to the detriment of your own child. I have been there and it is very hard. Still a worthwhile job though.

Good luck with your application.

MammaTJ Sat 17-Nov-12 08:25:32

I found out yesterday that my DCs school has a parent commitee. Nice idea, but the members are one parent from each class who has been 'invited' by the head to be on it. hmm

latebreakfast Sat 17-Nov-12 10:03:34

Poster: "The schools in my area all have terrible ratings. AIBU to try to get my DCs in to the local grammar school?"

Mumsnet: "YABU. Grammar schools are elitist. Get involved with your local school and make it better".

Poster: "I'd like to get involved with my local school and make it better. AIBU"

Mumsnet: "YABU. Schools are run by professionals, and you'd have no clue. Don't interfere".

Damned if you do and damned if you don't...

Pourquoimoi Sat 17-Nov-12 12:13:24

latebreakfast - no-one has said don't bother, they have said if you want to have a say then be prepared to get properly involved.

kenanddreary Sat 17-Nov-12 12:26:52

OP - if you really want to be involved in the running of a school then I suggest you either become a teacher or send your DC to a 'free' school.

BTW - becoming a governor doesn't always guarantee a say in how things are done either. IME it was more often than not just to nod and agree with the HT on things they wanted. Woe betide anyone who dared to speak against their ideas!

AChickenCalledKorma Sat 17-Nov-12 18:49:25

Am amazed at all the responses which assert that it's unreasonable to think that parents can get involved in a constructive manner, despite several of us describing structures that have been developed to do exactly that. I'm glad my children are at a school where the senior management team treats parents as intelligent human beings that might have some useful insight into school life. And also where parents seem to be perfectly capable of getting involved without trying to do the Head's job for her.

MagiMingeWassailsAgain Sun 18-Nov-12 11:31:03

Not all governors smile and nod. Really. I know that I am a right PITA because I don't .
I invite myself to meetings, ask for policies which are shit to be changed, and generally get actually involved. I am no fan of the HT, I haven't done it to make friends but to try to help the school improve.

exoticfruits Sun 18-Nov-12 11:57:38

While I think they need to be consulted, it would be impossible for them to have a say on everything-I know for a fact that if one group think something another group think the exact opposite!

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