Q Our staff have got into the habit of bringing complaints to governors. One governor in particular is a regular confidante, and I suspect she encourages it.
Occasionally this governor tries to bring these complaints up at meetings - and gets choked off by the head. But the situation has escalated, with the appointment of a teacher on short-term contract, to be renewed yearly (governors have never been consulted about this). She is West Indian, and is mounting something of a campaign against the head and staff, accusing them of what amounts to racial persecution, with governors acting as go-betweens. How can we handle this?
A You can't - and shouldn't try. It is indeed a bad habit for staff to approach individual governors with complaints. And governors should stick together in resisting it. There is no need to be unkind, but simply say that if the matters concern governors they should be put on the agenda for open discussion through the staff's own representative. If matters do not involve governors, and could be taken up through line management, internal committees or, in the last resort, grievance machinery, these structures should be used.
The situation is especially dangerous when racial prejudice is alleged, and this should be dealt with as formally as possible - any expression of sympathy may be treated as support and could disable the governing body in handling the grievance.
An underlying cause of trouble must be her sense of insecurity. In any case, when a short contract has run two consecutive years the appointmen t would effectively become permanent, unless it had been for some task that was always understood to have a natural end such as learning support for a named child who would eventually leave or a teacher on a sabbatical. Under employment law it is not possible to keep appointing for a year at a time: the teacher's employment rights are protected after two years.
Q You once explained that a one-third quorum is calculated differently from a two-thirds one. Could you remind me of the difference?
A A two-thirds quorum (needed for decisions such as delegating power to a committee and co-opting colleagues) is calculated less strictly than a one-third quorum. It is two-thirds of governors in post who are eligible to vote. A one-third quorum is of the whole governing body, including vacancies.
The two-thirds calculation would exclude some governors where appropriate - for instance co-opted governors, who are not eligible to vote on other co-options. It is a sensible way of ensuring a one-third quorum is not too easy to achieve and two-thirds is not impossible.
Q You always stress that the governing body must act together, but there's often only one person or at best a few willing to get involved at all. I know I'm not meant to be a one-woman complaints committee, but if the others just want a quiet life what can I do?
A I'm afraid I do know such governing bodies, and there isn't an easy answer. Some of the energy you put into solo activity must go into improving the team. Does your local authority offer team-training sessions in individual schools? Many do. Confide in someone who works locally on governor training and see if you can get this fixed. Don't nag colleagues, but take every opportunity to point out pleasantly the serious responsibilities which governors have, or put news reports or books about these under their noses. Talk about OFSTED and the greater emphasis in inspection on the governors' role, and see if you can find a few horror stories on this. Yes you may frighten some off, but this may be necessary.
If the apathy comes from appointed (LEA or foundation) governors, don't be afraid to agitate for better choices, and be ready with suggestions yourself for these and co-opted places. Suggest different ways you can share work or make regular commitments to spend time in school. Talk to your chair or head about the lost opportunities, and always be ready with examples of what other governors do.