Don't get stuck in a paper jam

Governors should take steps to avoid being swamped by data, writes Jane Martin

Another academic year comes to an end. But before you and your governor colleagues throw away your files, you should reflect on how you are getting on.

A key issue for an effective governing body is how you handle information. Is it available "just in time" and in an easily accessible format ? How do you get your facts?

Governors need information in a format which works for them. Electronic means are great but not available to everyone.

Does your school let you use its computers? Do you have access to the school website - is there a governors' website? If you use email, can governors access it at school as well as at home and at work? If you are still reliant on paper-based information, does that come to you in good time for meetings? Information could be delivered to you in verbal and visual presentations with question-and-answer sessions. What information do you get?

For many governors the difficulty is sometimes knowing what you need to know and what you can live without. Governors who are swamped with data which mean little to them will not be effective. Information, for example, for school improvement and target-setting, needs to be fit for purpose. If you are being bombarded with facts, ask why they are being presented and how they can help you set targets.

The head's report should be one of the most useful sources of information on school improvement, not just a diary of visits and meetings. If you are offered only the latter, suggest a few changes. The education authority should also help simplify complicated policy and legal documents.

What do you do with the data? The trick is for all governors to have access to the same information without everyone starting their own personal library. Can some papers be distributed rather than copied to everyone? Electronic delivery gets round this very well if all governors have access to it.

After each meeting, why not suggest that any superfluous papers be retained for recycling - with the promise of a formal governors' library? Perhaps committee chairs could hold all papers for their committee - on the assumption that they are accessible to governors when needed.

If you are not getting the information you need in the way you need it, start a discussion for the new academic year with guidelines:

* set limits for maximum length of documents;

* establish a "no jargon" policy;

* rationalise the mailings which come to you either by post or electronically;

* appoint an information "monitor" or "watchdog" to keep an eye on how things are going.

And remember, your aim is to make the best use of clear, concise information to make everyone's life easier - including yours.

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