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Joan Sallis answers your questions. I am a receptionistadministrative assistant working closely with the headteacher. It is the custom in our area to use one of the school's co-options or foundation places for a person elected by the support staff. I was elected last time round. I have never been chosen to take part in selection of staff, however, and both the head and chairman have made it clear that they do not think it would be proper and have refused to allow it. What is the legal position?

The first thing which isn't legal is that the head andor the chair should presume to make such a decision. It is for the governors as a whole to decide n how they are going to organise themselves to discharge their responsibilities for staff appointment; * whom they wish to represent them; and * how to interpret the regulation about withdrawal on ground of personal interest (with the courts in the last resort pronouncing on any decision so made which is challenged, though I only know about two such cases involving appointment processes).

The governors choose the individuals whom they wish to represent them and as long as they freely make the decision together on the basis of who would do a good job andor who ought to have the experience, that is that. What they may not do is to exclude any particular category of governor to an extent that the law does not support, by refusing, say, to choose a teacher governor simply because he or she is a teacher governor.

Some governors might feel uncomfortable about choosing you to be involved in the appointment of a new head, for instance. I personally wouldn't, because in the spectrum of opinion about what is "suitable" I come very near the far end: I think that departures from the principle that all governors are equal should be minimal and self-evidently necessary.

The fact that you work very closely with the person concerned does not seem to me to constitute a disqualification, as long as there is no element of personal gain or advancement in the outcome. But I know many governors would not take that line.

There is one practical problem, of course, and that is the release of staff in school time to do their governors' duties. In a right and proper world, if we believed there should be no disqualification, we ought to accept the cost. But in practice I know that budget implications exclude staff governors not just from formal tasks which take place in school time but also from many informal activities.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200. e-mail: letters@tes1.demon.

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