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Frustrating voluntary role..

(11 Posts)
GoverningBadly Wed 22-Feb-17 19:10:21

I'm a school governor and have been for a year and a half. The school is outstanding. It is efficiently run, good governing body and good head, happy children, ready for the cuts and planning for them.

Everyone is very dedicated and I have tremendous respect for the chair (who works a few days a week voluntarily) and the head and the teaching staff. The curriculum has been kept broad despite the pressures from new curriculum.

As with all organisations theres things we can do to improve. The head and the chair have a close relationship which can sometimes make the leadership team feel very cliquey and unwelcoming, so although a successful pairing it isn't a warm one, which i am fine to accept for all the benefits.
When I joined I already knew that the area for improvement was communications with parents. I partly volunteered to improve this area, as I suspected the school was doing well but didn't really see the right information coming to me as a parent.

The majority of parents do not understand how hard the teachers work, how well run the school is, what they could do to help and generally how lucky they are that in this climate, their children are getting a good, rounded eduction. As a result, the head spends an enormous amount of time on complaints. These complaints could be mitigated by better communications.

The head seems to see the parents as entitled and doesn't handle them softly (the tone of some of her mails is quite something).
The parents see her as insensitive and someone who doesn't try to see their concerns.
Therefore the issue is escalating so that several families are making more noise and are not 'pro' the school which is filtering into the school community.

For me - seeing both sides this is incredibly frustrating. I could see the head resigning, which would be terrible for the school. And I hear the playground talk, which i don't participate in or fully support head, this has resulted in people not discussing certain things with me.
I have volunteered on numerous occasions to take on parent communications on behalf of the governors and make various improvements. For the first year, I said very little, but asked for my concerns to be minuted in two of the six Full governor meetings, my concerns were accepted. I also offered to help. This year I have pushed a little harder, but only to the extent i have asked for action closure and repeated some concerns.
The Chair - generally doesn't reply to my emails, the head recently said a flat 'no' to an information request i asked to go to parents, which i thought would help stop some murmurings. When i see them they'll mentioned they haven't got round to a mail - but they never do. So I am generally ignored - but in a 'gentle' way. I even wrote a communication proposal (governors) which didn't even get a reply.
I am now on a team, which is (unjustifiably) getting a bad reputation, when it is just bad at one thing. There's a reticence to embrace the issue for some reason and I don't know what to do next. I may have to step down if i continue to find it this frustrating. The chair is in place for 1.5 more years and ironically already asked me if I'd like to chair next (I wouldn't) but i would ideally like to be on a supportive team that addresses issues that have been raised.
I also am getting a bit cross about it - which I don't want to do. So maybe it is better is I walk away?

JoJoSM2 Thu 23-Feb-17 14:45:33

Sounds like a right pickle. I would make sure I've really tried my best to help the head understand the parents' point of view and the dynamics. If it felt like I really wasn't getting anywhere, then I'd resign.

bojorojo Thu 23-Feb-17 16:04:37

Hello OP.

There is a lot in your post and I can see why you are frustrated. Fist of all, no-one should ignore emails from a follow Governor. This is not acceptable and you should try and have a meeting with the Chair to sort this out. What is the content of the emails?

It seems very odd that there are so many complaints in an outstanding school. I assume these are not formal complaints through the complaints procedure, but parents asking to see the Head? Although, if it was the latter, how do you know about the quantity? Formal complaints are fairly rare in most schools and follow a set procedure which does not normally involve all Governors. Are the details reported back to the GB?

As a Governor, you are concerned with strategy and this does not involve telling the Head to write to parents because you think it is a good idea. Have you undertaken the training you need for this role? If not, I think the Head and the Chair could ask that you do this so that you are informed about your role and where you should not be involved. The Head runs the school on a day to day basis and would not expect a Governor to tell him/her when to write to parents. If the matter was discussed at a GB meeting, and a strategy was adopted, that would be different because it would be the whole GB, of which the Head is a member.

Regarding communication with parents; schools have a resonsibility to keep parents informed but this does not mean they have to share everything with them. Our school, for example, does the following:

Weekly newsletter with appropriate reminders, e.g. A charity day, trip out,
Parents evenings and progress reports
Parents can make appointments to see Head, Deputy, Teachers, SENDCo
Up to date and legal web site
Early notice of school trips and expected costs
Early notice of cancellation of sports matches
Invitations to events in school
Subject evenings and an Assessment information evening
Termly letter from class teacher with curriculum for the following term
Open termly Parents' Forum and Coffee with the Head
Annual Satisfaction Questionnaire from Governors (feedback given to Parents and details of actions taken)
Governors available at Parent's Evening and Sports Day for a chat about concerns and communication
Parental Communication Governor appointed
Parent Mail for other communication and responses from parents
Termly (short) Newsletter from the governors about what we are doing.

If you are doing all of this, what more could parents possibly want? What do you consider to be the "right" information for parents? We do make sure we take feedback seriously and act on it. This was our previous big issue.

Does your LA do a School Communication course for Governors? If it does, go on it. It will show you best practice and you will then speak from a more informed position. It is not really a good idea to join a Governing Body for a "pet" project and expect everyone to agree with you. Try getting yourself trained in parent communication and then put it on the Agenda so everyone can discuss a strategy and you can lead from a position of strength.

Also, be very careful about reportring back what parents think. You do not know all of them. You are not a delegate. Some may be very happy. Often the louder ones do not speak for all.

What were the issues that have come up regarding communication that you feel so strongly about? Happy to help if I can.

admission Thu 23-Feb-17 18:10:20

As a chair of governors of an outstanding school I can understand how the school is in the position you say it is. Often the school has got to outstanding by virtue of the head teacher and their relationship with the Chair of Governors. That will include quite frankly the head teacher ruling with an iron fist. The problem is that an iron fist with parents is the last resort not the first response. I do know head teachers who are exactly as you describe and communication with parents is not good. And eventually it has usually ended with tears and tantrums and the head teacher leaving.
However I do also agree with BojoRojo in terms of how much of what you are saying is parent talk and how much, like the amount of time the head teacher spends on complaints, is fact. You as a parent governor are a representative parent not the parent's representative and you do seem to be taking on that role and not being sufficiently a parent representative.
If you are happy that you are fulfilling the role correctly then you need to make a decision can you hang on for a year until the chair finishes and expect whoever takes over (if you will not do it) to be more in tune with your thoughts or not. It is actually better to stand aside than continue to be frustrated .

GoverningBadly Fri 24-Feb-17 18:50:27

Thanks for your responses.

You are right bojorojo, they are not formal complaints - but parents asking to see the head.

I don't think we need significant change, but we just need to do a bit more, there's a number of things listed that we don't do e.g.
Termly letter from class teacher with curriculum for the following term
Open termly Parents' Forum and Coffee with the Head - this is a great idea - I will take this forward.
Governors available at Parent's Evening and Sports Day for a chat about concerns and communication
Parental Communication Governor appointed - (this is what i've volunteered for and keep getting holding responses on)
Parent Mail for other communication and responses from parents
Termly (short) Newsletter from the governors about what we are doing. - this is a great idea - i will take this forward.
Its the 'softer' stuff we don't do.

Re:
Annual Satisfaction Questionnaire from Governors (feedback given to Parents and details of actions taken)
We do the assessment but not the feedback (in line with the theme!)

We also need a timeline of events clearly published and a better website.

What we have to do is pretty easy/straightforward - we are just dragging out heels and I am unclear why. I think as admission has said about other schools, the head is fairly autocratic, which is one of her strong points, but is now getting frustrated and I can see her leaving...

I certainly don't feel i represent the parents, I have approached this very softly, being cognisant of the governor responsibilities. I'm wondering if we really are 'critical friends' or just supporters of the head, which in the longer term is not likely to be best for the school (esp if she leaves).

bojorojo Sat 25-Feb-17 11:40:35

I agree that just being supporters is not acceptable. For example, we receive a very detailed Head Teacher's Report to Governors at the Full GB meeting and can send in questions for the Head to answer at the meeting. Therefore we can hold the Head to account. Do you do this? Is there a way Governors challenge the Head or do you just agree with what you are told? We have also undertaken a very thorough review of how we conduct our work as Governors which includes how we hold the Head and the school to account. Has your GB done this? We have then produced a development plan for the GB to address any shortcomings identified.

I think we have moved away from the critical friend model. We prefer to challenge and support. What reports do you get on parental communication from the Head? If you have survey results, how are they reported to the GB? We realised it was frustrating parents to be asked to complete questionnaires and then never know if they influence policy or indeed are acted upon in any way. The Parents' Forum came out of this. A Governor goes along to this too.

It is natural that the Chair works closely with the Head but they should report back to other Governors or it becomes an A Team and a B Team! This is not healthy and should be avoided and does not help succession either.

I would see if you can introduce any of the ideas you like gently. Can you get the support of other Governors? I would have thought taking it step by step, armed with good practice and training, you could persuade everyone of the need to include parents as partners and not a separate entity who are just receiving dictats. Our newsletter is sent out at the end of term as an addition to the Head's final Newsletter.

Do make sure your web site is legal. You may not be due an inspection but Ofsted do look at them. You also want your parents to respond well to Ofsted's Parent's survey. This could be used to get the Governors to think about their relationship with parents. A vocal dissenting minority is not helpful. Hope this helps

highinthesky Sat 25-Feb-17 11:46:33

GoverningBody - your role is not operational, it's there to ensure systems and processes are right.

If you have concerns then make sure the items are scheduled into a full governing board meeting, and chat through the issues with the chair first. Your way of going about things is probably causing a bit of irritation, if this is the case the chair will want to talk to you anyway.

From another governor of an outstanding school.

highinthesky Sat 25-Feb-17 11:47:40

Btw as a governor, your role is not to represent parents.

GoverningBadly Sat 25-Feb-17 13:04:57

bojoro Thanks for your good advice. Lots of things you say ring true (e.g. A and B team and secession planning issues)
It sounds like you have some processes we should aim for with regard to relations and feedback from parents.
The parents forum is a great idea. We have a similar issue when we survey parents we get limited feedback, but rather than then proactively seek it another way (as you have done) we say - 'we've tried we didn't get many responses' and it does not get resolved.
Our website is clunky but ticks all the legal boxes.
We have a heads report, plus a very similar process to the one you describe, its very effective. The heads report is really detailed and allows for challenge. The content of the reports is thorough in all areas, except - parent comms. It does not have a section on comms.
There are 2 other governors who've tried to raise comms points, one of them runs the parents survey. The other even mocked up a website (which i know is beyond scope). Everyone made all the right noises, was incredibly positive and it got put on the list - [read deprioritised] - despite parents, who are IT professionals offering to take it forward (the head wants to do it but she hasn't got time). I could try and get the other 2 governors together, it seems a bit political but as the chair is not processing it, it might be worth trying.
The chair is really good in other respects and if i try and see her point of view, I know that its just a priority call. She just doesn't see comms as being as important as our other priorities. Whereas, I see it as part of us being an effective leadership team and happy school community.

Highinthesky As you say, I have tabled issues at governors meetings, and requested that they be minuted. The first time I did was a year ago..The action items get rolled or re-written (classic procrastination). That is why i've started to try and follow up outside the meetings.
I probably am becoming irritating, but its because I believe this 'single' comms issue is causing wider issues. I have used the correct process to raise the issue.
I know my role isn't to represent parents. I don't represent them. I am a governor.

highinthesky Sat 25-Feb-17 13:24:44

In that case make sure the issue, required actions and timeline are logged in the SDP so it can't be ignored.

bojorojo Sat 25-Feb-17 17:52:28

A single Governor cannot get a single issue in the s d p though. I think talking to other similar minded Governors might be a good idea - a united front. What about at a committee meeting? Is this more likely to succeed. I assume the Chair does not Chair these as well. This may allow for wider discussion.

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