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JOAN SALLIS Answers your questions

One of our parent-governors is an accountant and on the finance committee, which I chair. He asks questions that the rest of us often don't understand and tries to lay down rules such as what items of expenditure require special approval, who is authorised to sign cheques and so on. Perhaps the rest of us are too apt to take things on trust but we have an able bursar who will I fear become irritated by this. And surely one person should not dominate?

Your instincts are correct. Experts can be a nuisance and in particular lead the governing body into too much detailed direction. The crucial point is that it is the committee (and occasionally on a difficult issue the whole body) which has authority to determine objectives and working principles. While any member can of course make suggestions, the outcome must be determined by all of you after discussion.

If you have a good bursar your task of oversight should be easy, though accountability is still important, and you must bear this in mind when setting out your principles. Perhaps at the outset you were a bit casual about how you were going to work, which leaves you at the mercy of any over-zealous member, but you can easily correct that.

The object of regular scrutiny, once the distribution of the budget has been determined at the beginning of the year, is to satisfy yourselves that spending under broad headings is on course. You should receive explanations of anything unexpected, but do not need more detail than that. As for procedures to ensure proper handling of finance - such as who signs cheques - these are matters you discuss at the outset and which are accepted by everybody. The object is to exercise general oversight while leaving the head and staff free to manage day-by-day with reasonable flexibility.

Once you have these things agreed it will be much easier to keep your colleague on course. However at some stage you may have to tell him that ours is not a book-keeping role but simply a duty to help the school plan broadly for its agreed development needs within the total budget, and to monitor progress to that end.

Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, as we aim to provide information for all readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals

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