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It is more than seven years since I found the invitation to write a weekly Agenda column in my Christmas stocking, and four since I last collected the questions and answers for a book. It still feels like a special treat, because the 52 weeks of commitment gives a shape to every week, a new sharpness to every personal contact with governors, and a new-every-morning interest to the incoming post.

This provides an opportunity to reflect on the preoccupations of governors, old and new. The 1986 Act represented a huge experiment in small-scale democracy and in community education, and one would not expect the changes in seven years to be dramatic, especially as there had to be a shake-out of those old-style governors who didn't really know what they had signed up for - and that isn't yet over.

Inevitably governors are still preoccupied with who they are, what their role is, who they represent, the lines they mustn't cross, how to establish trust in the relationship with the headteacher, how to organise themselves as an effective team and deal with power games within the governing body.

The relationship with the headteacher is at the heart of it. If the head does not trust and respect governors, and regard them as a protection for the school and its values rather than a challenge to trivial manifestations of authority, there is little hope of an effective team.

There are fewer questions than you would expect on OFSTED inspections, on GM status, on the national curriculum and on the new distribution of power envisaged in the 1993 Act (whose shocking implications seem not to have sunk in yet). What I think is changing is the depth of the questions on the old chestnuts of communication, territory and teamwork. Innocence is beginning to give way to an awareness of the games people play, bewilderment yielding to the sometimes angry identification of obstacles to what is seen as a crucial task.

How fast people learn when they care enough; and what amazing speed good governor training is developing at, on slender resources and often with too little status within the local authority. This owes much to the recruitment of trainers whose style has not been shaped in well-funded or hierarchical organisations, but in the voluntary or partially-funded sectors; people from adult and community education, who are not used to big budgets or rigid lines of authority and who are resourceful and imaginative in ways which influence others.

All, wherever they come from, are learning to value governors and want to facilitate the projection of their voices - a desire at extremes leading to conflicts of loyalty. "Who do I represent? Governors or local authority?" These questions are healthy and could promote some soul-searching in local authorities, no longer the sole protectors of public service values.

Joan Sallis's latest Agenda collection, School Governors: a Question and Answer Guide is published next week by Butterworth and Heinemann, Pounds 9.99. TES readers can obtain it for Pounds 7.99 from Joan Sallis Book Offer, TES Promotions Department, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

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