Education Quandary: Should we set up a parents' council at my daughter's secondary school? How do they work? What do they do?

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Parents' councils sound great on paper, but I wonder how many will get off the ground. In my experience, very few parents want to get seriously involved in their children's schools, and those that do either become parent governors or stalwarts of their parent-teacher association.

However, these new councils are specifically intended to encourage more parents to step forward, especially from minority groups and those who are "disengaged" from the system, so if this is part of your plan as you struggle to improve your children's school, it might be a useful string to your bow.

The councils are intended to channel parental views to a school and to prod schools to find better ways to teach and encourage their pupils. They are there to encourage participation and collaboration, but they can't make decisions or demand that specific changes are made.

You will need to explain all this to parents, and to make clear that this is a general parental forum, not a channel for individual complaints. You will also need to see if your school governors are willing to allocate money for administration and training. However, all trust schools, where a trust appoints the majority of governors, must now have a parents' council.

According to the law firm Cobbetts (see below), parents' councils have already made a positive contribution to healthy eating, homework, school travel, after-school clubs and the running of parents' evenings.

Readers' advice

Parent councils are already running in Scotland, which is where the idea came from. People were doubtful at first, but many are now working well. Look at www.ltscotland.org.uk/ parentzone if you want to see what they can do.

Lara Kelly, Edinburgh

To set up a parents' council the governing body will work out if there is a need for one and then establish a working group with others, for example from the local education authority, who may be able to help set it up.

This group will consult parents, staff, the governing body and any other interested parties and agree the purpose and aims of the council, the nature of its relationship with the governing body, who will be able to join it, how best to communicate in setting it up, who should chair it and what the agenda should be.

At the first meeting the goals of the parents' council should be discussed and dialogue established between the parents' council, the school and the governing body to discuss how best to achieve those goals.

I would recommend the Department for Schools, Children and Families' resource "Setting up a Parents' Council.

Tiffany Cloynes, Commercial Partner, Cobbetts LLP, London WC1

Parents' councils have no power or authority, and any school will be able to manipulate or ignore them if it wishes. If you want real influence as a parent, you must become a school governor.

Joan Woods, Hertfordshire

Next Week's Quandary

As a former teacher I was a great fan of the literacy and numeracy hours. I saw them make a huge difference to so many children and dread a return to the general free-for-all that existed in schools before they came in. But isn't that bound to happen now the national strategies have been abolished?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com where they can be searched by topic.

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