I have been a governor for three years. Your column suggests a much higher involvement at other schools than I have found. We get a brief headteacher's report every term, but it is uninformative. We get the Sats results but no guidance on how to judge them.
Other governors I'd met sit in on classes and are responsible for particular subjects. Some take part in recruitment, some discuss behaviour policies, some hear appeals against exclusion, and all sit on committees that make important decisions about finance, curriculum etc.
I think our chair has quite a few meetings with the head, but these seem to consist of fixing the agenda for meetings.
Other governors seem to be dissatisfied. My trouble is that I don't know what information we are entitled to receive or what decisions to take part in. I only know that there is little point in being a governor.
I feel disinclined to stand again if things don't improve.
This is a very sad letter and unfortunately such extreme cases of a governing body that has no meaningful role are not unknown. It emphasises again what a lot depends on the headteacher. Our work is a mixture of processes, some of which have to take place by law and others which develop in good schools. To achieve the latter, you need the willing participation of your head.
For instance, schools are certainly not obliged to involve governors in teacher selection, but many schools take the view, as I do, that it is not only helpful to have a governor's participation and commitment, but also rather dangerous for governors not to be represented when they have the responsibilities of an employer if anything goes wrong.
There is no requirement to link governors to subjects. Although I have some reservations about this because it comes very near the border between governance and management, it is frequently insisted on by inspectors when a school is in special measures.
At the other extreme, a governing body is legally required to set up a behaviour policy to judge more serious exclusions and, if necessary, judge appeals, and it cannot fulfil various legal responsibilities properly without some committees.
Your chair does not seem to be very dynamic. I hope she comes up for election this term (I much regret that the law requiring re-election every year is not still with us). You must talk to her and other governors about what is common practice in most schools. Ask questions about test results if you can't conclude anything from what you are told.
A key issue seems to be the agenda. It isn't practical for it to be drawn up by the whole governing body, but there should be a mechanism for any governor to contribute. It is normal for head, chair and perhaps clerk to draw up the agenda, but a good chair will ask for suggestions from any governor by a certain date.
You should certainly have committees because even the most active governing body can't cover everything . I think I'd leave the issue of attachment to subjects for the time being, but that doesn't mean the curriculum committee cannot at least ask for information on the basic content and methods for various subjects. If all else fails you could ask your local authority governor support team to provide training on basic roles and responsibilities in your school. This will give the right message.
The TES welcomes your queries.Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see www.tes.co.uk governorsask_the_expert where answers will appear