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Joan Sallis answers your questions

Our governing body had its nine basic members when we came to hear about a very good person with accounting experience which we badly needed. About the same time we had a new caretaker who was so committed and knowledgeable that we all felt we would like him to be a governor. We voted unanimously to co-opt both these people and they have been attending our meetings for six months. We have now been told by the local authority that we cannot do this. Are they just being bureaucratic? Surely most committees co-opt extra members.

Not governing bodies I'm afraid. It will say in your Instruments of Government and the official Guide to the Law what the size and composition of your governing body has to be - as a county school with fewer than 100 pupils, you have three co-opted governors. You have to wait for a vacancy in that category before you can invite anyone else to be a full voting governor.

Both these useful people could attend all your meetings by standing invitation if that is what you all want, but they will have no vote and will have to be careful not to involve themselves in any controversial discussions. You can even just co-opt your accountant on to your finance committee or your caretaker on to your premises committee (without votes) if you want, and co- opt them as full governors when you have a vacancy in that category.

There is also no reason why they cannot be appointed to the next vacancies as local governors if you can so persuade your authority. In voluntary-aided schools (which have no co-optees) they might be appointed by the foundation.

Can you list the advantages and disadvantages of a head opting to be a governor and what does ex officio mean?

Heads who opt not to be governors often say that they have more status as professional advisers. My reply is they are still professional advisers whatever they decide about becoming governors - that is how the rest of us always see them, and it is not eitheror.

Some also say they would feel undermined if they had to implement majority decisions on any important matter which they had voted against. I believe that it would be serious to have to disagree with governors on a vital issue in any circumstances; that being a governor doesn't make it worse; and that, on the contrary, you can fight your corner better if you are allowed to take part in the argument.

What some heads who choose not to be governors fail to realise is that this choice means they should only advise on matters of fact and professional practice. They should not involve themselves in controversial issues and thus influence those who do have votes.

Your rights to attend meetings of governors are unaffected by whether you are a voting governor.

But if you are a governor you are bound, like others, by majority decisions and should be loyal outside the meeting, even if you have not agreed with the decision.

Ex officio means that someone is entitled to a place on a body by reason of the office he or she holds, and does not have to be voted or co-opted on as an individual like other members.

* Joan Sallis has just published a booklet How Schools Work: a really simple guide for governors and parents. It is intended for all those who find themselves with a role in schools, whether as governors, parent-teacher association workers or parent helpers in classes. It provides a brief history of the schooling system, a guide to who does what in education and an account of life inside a school. Pounds 5 (plus Pounds 1 for post and packing) from ACE, 1B Aberdeen Studios, 22-26 Highbury Grove, London N5 2EA. Discounts for bulk purchases.

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