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I HAVE just been elected as a parent to the governing body of a secondary school, but after several years' experience in a large junior school which was another world.

Everything at the junior was shared, everyone pulled their weight, we got through the work, felt valued and useful, got involved, had a wonderful chair. Here there is enough bad practice to fill your column for six months!

I don't know how to break in on my own. I realise I was effective before because of the head, the chair, the others - in short, a supportive environment. Here the chair sews everything up with the head. Meetings are a farce, as we are just voting fodder. No governor comes near the school between meetings and we see very few documents. Could you just give me a few tips for improving matters without becoming unpopular?

IT'S TOUGH. You know it won't be quick. But as soon as others realise that doing the job properly is immensely satisfying, you will get a few working with you, a few will leave, and most will slowly


You must break down the chair's "possession" of the work and his exclusive relationship with the head. Suggest that when school policies are discussed at any informal meeting, the governors have a short note of the main points. No governors' business should be unrecorded. Ask if correspondence handled by the chair can be logged and a list circulated at full meetings, with the file on the table for anyone to look at.

When an important decision has clearly been made outside a proper meeting, ask where you can see the minutes of the meeting where the matter was delegated. (A newcomer can get away with this!) The 1999 regulations are even sticter than the earlier ones on chair's action.

There is no power to act without formal delegation except in an emergency. If such action is taken, it has to be shown that delay would put the school or anyone in it in danger.

What's more, it has to be a decision which governors can legally delegate. These are few, and it must be reported at the next meeting. Ask if everyone knows this, and point out pleasantly to the head on her own the dangers of decisions whose legality can be challenged.

Get into the habit of saying quietly: "Please can we all discuss this?" Ask if the chair will go round the table making sure everyone agrees, when agreement is taken for granted.

Make sure you have properly constituted committees with clear remits, membership and minutes, and that exclusions are handled scrupulously. Ask to attend teacher-appointment panels on a rota.

Establish governor attachments to a subject, a class, or a month of duty which will include visiting classes, and don't let it slip. A duty month is a great way of spreading out the jobs that chairs normally do - greeting visitors, giving out badges, etc.

You'll make sure, of course, that you don't stray into professional issues, but there are still a lot of uncontroversial and enjoyable things governors can do in a secondary school - such as helping in discussion groups in personal and social education, assisting groups to formulate feedback after a school trip, work experience, a foreign exchange.

Ask your head to use her termly report to flag up things on the horizon. She clearly needs support, but show her that contact shared among you makes her more secure, not less.

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