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Parent governors: role

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Last updated on 8 November 2016
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In-depth article
What is the role of a parent governor? We look at advice from local authorities on the parent governor's role and the rules on parent governor committee membership. There are also some top tips for parent governors from one of our associate experts.

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Contents

  1. 1 How to be an effective parent governor  
  2. 2 Ensuring the parental viewpoint is acknowledged 
  3. 3 Parent governors and conflicts of interest
  4. 4 Parent governors who work at the school
  5. 5 Raising concerns as a parent, rather than a parent governor 

Article features

  • 5 external links

How to be an effective parent governor  

Central Bedfordshire Council 

Central Bedfordshire Council has published guidance for its schools on the role of a parent governor.

The guidance is for governing bodies constituted under the School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2012, which apply to maintained schools. However, academy governors may still find it useful.

A parent governor is a representative and not a delegate of parents

Page 6 of the guidance explains that a parent governor is a representative and not a delegate of parents. There is no obligation for them to vote in a particular way. 

It continues:

Parent governors are elected by other parents and it is important to establish a rapport with the parental body that elected you, while continuing to maintain a strategic approach to school governance.

The document also has advice on being an effective parent governor. For example, it says you should:

  • Help to decide the priorities for improving the school
  • Make yourself available to parents, listen to other parents’ opinions and take account of them as you contribute to governors’ decisions
  • Work in partnership with the headteacher, senior leadership team and co-operatively with other governors to raise standards and improve outcomes for all children
  • Prepare for meetings by reading papers beforehand
Gov article answers

New parent governors 

If you are a new parent governor, you might like to take a look at our new governor essentials bundle, where we have selected a range of articles as a starting point.

Luton Borough Council 

Luton Borough Council has also produced a document for its schools on the role of the parent governor.

The document says that parent governors provide a "parental viewpoint", though they are "representative parents rather than representatives of parents". To fulfil the role effectively, parent governors should:

  • Make themselves known to the parent body
  • Try to attend in-service training (INSET) sessions
  • Listen impartially to concerns raised by parents
  • Guide parents about appropriate lines of action and procedures
  • Present a balanced view of issues, representing different sections of the community

It highlights the importance for parent governors to establish a rapport with other parents. However, they should not become personally involved in any individual concerns, as this may jeopardise complaint and appeal procedures.

The guidance suggests practical ways of achieving a balance between impartial representation and the emotional issues relating to a child’s education.

Top tips for parent governors

Expert comment icon

One of our associate education experts, Jackie Beard, gives some top tips for parent governors.

  • Keep the parental perspective in mind. Approach every issue with the question “What do I as a parent think about this? What would other parents think about this?”
  • Get it in writing. If another parent approaches you with a grievance, ask them to put it in writing. This is the correct procedure, and helps to separate genuine complaints from the customary grumbles.
  • Take a step back. If you have an issue concerning your child, ask his/her other parent to lead the discussion with the school. If this isn’t possible, remember that you are acting as a parent only – leave your governor hat at home!

Ensuring the parental viewpoint is acknowledged 

A parent governor contacted us to ask what to do when it seems that the chair and headteacher are not taking the parental viewpoint into account. 

We contacted Vicky Redding, one of our associate education experts, for advice. 

The whole governing body should be sensitive to parents' concerns

Vicky began by pointing out that parent governors should not be solely responsible for finding out what parents think. The whole governing body has a responsibility to acknowledge the parental view and should make sure that mechanisms for parental engagement are in place. At the same time, she explained that parents do not need to be consulted about everything. 

The governing body and headteacher should establish clear expectations

Vicky said that the governing body and headteacher should establish clear expectations to make sure that everyone understands their respective roles. Parent governors, like other members of the governing body, should be aware that their role is strategic rather than operational. The headteacher should be allowed to exercise their professional judgement, while the governing body should hold them to account through robust challenge and questioning.

Vicky said that it was perfectly reasonable for governors to ask headteachers to justify their choices. For example, questions to ask about changes to the curriculum could include:

  • How and why is the curriculum changing?
  • Are the changes in the best interests of the pupils?
  • Are the changes based on best practice from elsewhere?

While governors are not necessarily qualified to make decisions about the curriculum, Vicky said they can ensure that the headteacher's decisions are well thought through. 

If a parent governor still feels that they are being undervalued, Vicky suggested that they should raise their concerns with the chair. If they are not able to resolve the issue at this level, the vice chair should be the next point of contact.

Challenging the relationship between the head and the chair

In the following article, we relay advice on how to deal with a situation where the chair and headteacher do not recognise the contributions of the other members of the governing body.

Our experts suggest a variety of solutions, including:

  • Speaking informally to the chair or vice-chair
  • Scheduling an agenda item to consider the way information is shared 
  • Arranging a governing body self-evaluation session  

Parent governors and conflicts of interest

Are parent governors restricted from being on certain committees?

The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 do not restrict parent governors from being a member of any committee.

These regulations apply to maintained schools. Governors in academies should check their articles of association. The Department for Education (DfE)'s model articles also do not restrict parent governors from any committees.

You can download the latest version of the model articles of association from the page linked to below:

The advice from the London Borough of Redbridge, linked to above, explains that as with all governors, parent governors should not be involved in hearing any cases or complaints where they have had any personal interests or involvement.

Should parent governors declare an interest in agenda items that might affect their children?

We were asked whether a parent governor should declare an interest in an agenda item which would affect their child, such as a curriculum re-organisation.

We asked Keith Clover, one of our associate education experts and a National Leader of Governance (NLG), for his advice.

Keith said that parent governors do not need to declare a personal interest in all agenda items that could have an impact on their child.

Where there is a dispute about whether the governor should withdraw, the other governors may make this decision

He explained that where a parent governor’s child is individually implicated in a matter, or the parent governor's ability to act impartiality on an issue is clearly in doubt, they should then declare an interest and consider withdrawing from a discussion and/or vote. Where there is a dispute about whether the governor should withdraw, the other governors may make this decision.

However, he said the fact that a parent governor's child may be connected to an issue being discussed should not immediately be regarded as a conflict of interest, and parent governors should be given the opportunity to provide a parental viewpoint in the best interests of the school.

Similar advice is provided on page 6 of Central Bedfordshire Council's guidance on the role of the parent governor (see above), which says parent governors should:

... declare an interest and withdraw ... where you are so close to a matter discussed it is difficult to be impartial.

You can find more information on disclosing interests in the following article.

Parent governors who work at the school

A member asked us whether there are restrictions on how many hours parent governors can work at the school where they are a governor.

The School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2012 apply to maintained schools. Guidance on the regulations says on page 19 that a person is disqualified from being a parent governor if he/she is paid to work at the school for more than 500 hours in any consecutive 12-month period (at the time of election or appointment).

Article 6.7 of the DfE's model articles of association for academies, linked to in section 2 above, says:

Subject to article 6.8, a trustee may be employed by the academy trust or enter into a contract for the supply of goods or services to the academy trust, other than for acting as a trustee.

The articles do not specify a maximum number of hours for this work.

Is it good practice for parent governors to work at the school?

We asked Jackie Beard, one of our associate education experts, for her thoughts on whether it is good practice for a parent governor to work at the school where he or she is a governor.

Jackie said that generally this is not something she would encourage, as it could lead to conflicts of interest and to confusion over governors' roles.

However, it depends on the parent governor's role at the school. If he or she works only a few hours per week, this may not cause any issues.

Parent governors working at their school should declare their employment as an interest

Jackie suggested that parent governors working at their school should:

  • Declare their employment as an interest. The governor will need to note his/her employment at the school on the register of interests, and declare it at any meeting where this is relevant
  • Consider how they will separate their roles. Jackie said that it can be hard for parent governors to separate the role of parent and parent governor. This could be even more difficult for people who are also staff at the school

Jackie advised that the chair of a governing body where a parent governor also works at the school should talk to the parent governor. The chair should remind the parent governor of his/her role and ensure that the individual acts as a governor only, and not as a parent or a member of staff.

The chair will also need to consider which committees the governor sits on. Jackie said it would not be appropriate for a parent governor who works at the school to sit on a committee that deals with staff pay, for example.

Raising concerns as a parent, rather than a parent governor 

In another article, we explain that parent governors may want to raise a concern with the school in their capacity as stakeholders, rather than governors. In this case, we explain that the parent governor should follow their school's complaints procedure. 

A further article relays advice on how to separate the role of governor from the role of parent. The article includes specific advice on how a parent governor can raise concerns about their child without compromising their role on the governing body. 

Victimisation as the result of raising concerns

A parent governor contacted us to ask what to do if they feel that they and their child are being victimised as the result of raising concerns as a governor.

The chair would usually be the first point of contact for a parent governor in this situation

Vicky said that this was a very serious issue and should be raised through the school's formal complaints procedure. She said that the chair would usually be the first point of contact for a parent governor in this situation, but concerns could also be raised through the vice-chair.

Where the issue is between the headteacher and a parent governor, Vicky suggested that the deputy head may be able to mediate between the opposing parties. In extreme cases, Vicky said that a formal mediation service could be used to resolve conflicts between members of the governing body and the school.

Vicky said that the parent governor should consider whether they are able to proceed with the complaints process without jeopardising their role as parent governor, or whether it might be worth stepping down. She said the parent governor may feel less conflicted about pursuing the complaint if it is clear that they are acting as a parent only. 

Sources and further reading

Vicky Redding is a governance trainer and consultant. She provides training, advice and support on effective school governance.

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.

This article was updated in response to a question from a governor of an urban special school in the west Midlands.

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