Parent governor/trustee: role
Learn how to separate your role as a governor from your role as a parent, so you can manage your relationship with other parents and do your job well.
The role: summary
As a parent governor, your role is:
- To bring a parental perspective to the issues discussed – you're not there to speak 'on behalf' of the parent body
- No different from other governors
Note: parents are elected to the board, not appointed (unless there are fewer candidates than vacancies).
Take a look at our governor and trustee role descriptions to see all of your responsibilities and duties.
Communicate a parent's perspective
It's a fine line to tread, but remember that you're not there to speak on behalf of parents.
Use your perspective to help the board understand a parent's viewpoint. This will help the board make good decisions and maintain a link between governance and the parent community.
You can read more about this in:
- The Governance Handbook (page 20)
- Guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) – page 14 for maintained schools, and page 21 for academies
Parental perspective in practice
You're not bringing complaints from parents to the board's attention. Rather, you're highlighting how governing board decisions impact the school from a parent's perspective.
|Example||Do ask||Don't say|
|School uniform change||
'Has the school consulted parents on the proposed uniform changes? If not, why not?'
|'As a parent, I've spoken to other parents in the playground and we all think the uniform shouldn't change.'|
|Canteen menu change||
'How have parents been consulted on the new menu?'
|'Parents have come up to me asking why the menu has changed. They say they prefer the old one.'|
'How has the school communicated the curriculum change to parents?'
'Have parents been given the opportunity to ask questions and get further clarity?'
'Parents want me express to you that they disagree with the changes. They don't feel the changes reflect what they want their children to be taught.'
Set expectations with other parents
Help other parents understand that you're not there to:
- Speak on their behalf
- Bring up their individual issues in meetings
- Solve problems for them
Be polite but firm, and tell them to stick to the official channels.
Get up to speed with your school's complaints procedure and staff list, so you can quickly direct parents to how/where they can raise their issue.
If another parent approaches you at the school gate with a grievance:
- Do ask the parent to put it in writing and follow the school's complaints procedure. Tell them how/where they can raise their issue. This helps to separate genuine complaints from the customary grumbles
- Do explain what the role of parent governor actually is. Learn a one-liner such as: "Parent governors don't speak 'on behalf' of the parent body, instead we bring a parental perspective to the strategic decisions the governors make"
- Don't agree to raise it at the meeting or look into it for them – this will set a bad precedent and will cause problems later down the line as the right procedure hasn't been followed
Don't respond to comments on social media in your governor role
You might see comments about the school from parents on social media, perhaps in parent groups you've joined. It's not your role to get involved.
For advice on how to respond in these situations, read our Facebook 'cheat sheet' for governors.
Separate your role as a governor from your role as a parent
Think about all pupils, not just your child
As a governor, you're responsible for the progress and wellbeing of all pupils at the school, so keep this at the forefront of your mind in meetings.
You must rely on a wide range of sources to make decisions and hold the headteacher to account. These include high-quality, objective data and the views of pupils, staff, parents and the community. This is set out in the Governance Handbook (page 13).
When discussing issues in meetings:
- Do remember that you're acting in the interests of the whole pupil body
- Don't bring up your child, or refer to anecdotal evidence based only on your child's, or a friend's, experience
Follow your school's complaints procedure like any other parent
If you have a complaint concerning your child, you must follow your school's complaints procedure, even as a parent governor.
If possible, ask the other parent to lead the discussion with the school. In all communication during the process, clarify that you're acting as a parent, not a governor.
You could take action as a governor if the complaint affects more children than your own child. For example, if data shows a wider problem with pupil progress in your child's year group, ask questions in the relevant meetings like:
- What support is in place for underperforming members of staff?
- How does the school help all children who are falling behind?
Avoid conflicts of interest
Most of the time, you won't need to declare a personal interest in all agenda items that could have an impact on your child. You should do this where:
- The matter would affect your child individually (an exclusions panel where your child was the victim of a behaviour incident, for example)
- You feel too close to the matter to be impartial
Where there is a dispute about whether you should withdraw, the other governors may make this decision.
Read our parent governor conflict of interest scenario to be clear on what conflicts of interest can look like in practice.
If you have concerns over a governing board decision
Again, remember to keep your role as a parent separate from your role as a governor.
If you have a concern:
- Do raise it in a governing board meeting. Meetings are designed for this purpose: governors can openly discuss decisions the governing board might take, and governors can express disagreement by voting against it
- Do respect the decision taken by the board if it's been voted on properly, and be united with your fellow governors
- Do ask for a meeting with the chair to discuss a decision in more detail if you wish
- Don't express your disagreement outside governing board meetings
- Don't involve other parents or seek to mobilise them in any way
Jackie Beard is a national leader of governance (NLG), advising governing bodies in all aspects of their role. She also sits on an independent appeal panel for exclusions and admissions for a local authority.
Keith Clover is an NLG. He chairs an interim executive board and is an academy consultant for a diocese.
Vicky Redding is a governance trainer and consultant. She provides training, advice and support on effective school governance.