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Agenda

Joan Sallis answers governors' questions.

Q

Our new head has decreed that documents pertaining to our work should not be sent or handed out to every governor. He says that it costs too much and that individual governors have access at any reasonable time to the governors' file in the general office. "It is a very open school," he says. He also says that it is only the governing body as a whole which has the power and quotes one of your publications in support of this!

The chairman gets most documents but he cannot afford to get them copied out of his own money. I am talking about a wide variety of papers ranging from the development plan, prospectus, major school policies - either presented for our approval or final versions kept in the school - exam results, curriculum and other discussion papers, to miscellaneous correspondence addressed to the governing body or the chair personally.

What do you think?

A

Apart from miscellaneous correspondence, which I'll come to, I think that to deny individual governors their own copies of documents is unacceptable. Maybe your head feels threatened by too much governor interest and this is the real issue, not money. If you have ever over-stepped your role you will have to work hard now to demonstrate that you don't want to run the school.

If governors are to contribute properly not just to the development of policy but also the ambassadorial role which is so important in interpreting schools to the wider community, they need their own copies of all basic documents. It is not enough to have access only to the school file. Few governors can manage the hours it would take to do justice to this task during working hours, and, as I often say, equality is best served by giving people the chance to study papers at leisure and in privacy, with time to ask about anything they don't understand. The development plan, prospectus and all major policies in place should be given to new governors on appointment, and amendments circulated to all each time they are updated.

It's true that I do often remind governors that they have no power as individuals, but they do contribute as individuals to shared decisions and they all need to be well informed. When proposals are circulated in draft each governor needs a personal copy to refer to if there is to be a genuine debate.

I would not necessarily think each governor should have copies of all correspondence received. First, we'd be drowned; second, if you see a typical batch you have to agree that most of it tends to be of passing interest only. The chair should see everything, and we have to trust him or her to share anything difficult or important. I would see it as good practice to circulate a list of all letters received, but with a brief guide to the subject matter and a reminder of where the correspondence can be inspected. I would go further and say that it might be even better if the file containing governors' correspondence was always on the table at governors' meetings.

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