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Fast work if you can plan it

I spent Sunday afternoon preparing for the next governors' meeting. My governing body still manages on one full business meeting a term and the troops get restless if it goes on for more than two-and-a-half hours.

To achieve this, we send all papers out in advance: minutes; head's report; committee reports; list of correspondence received by the chairman; consultation documents and so on.

My preparation consists of highlighting areas for discussion on all these and allocating time for them and other agenda items. At the meeting, I ruthlessly assume that all papers have been read and that any questions will be instantly forthcoming. Proceedings are conducted at a brisk pace.

One of the main items on the agenda for this meeting is the annual report for parents. I have listed all the areas we are legally obliged to cover, plus a few sections of our own choosing, and pencilled in the names of governors to write them. I have reported on the results of the local authority's consultation on revising the local management of schools formula and on our liaison with other schools and playgroups on nursery vouchers.

I have sent out a report on my visits to school this term and arranged for ballot papers to be prepared for our annual grant-maintained vote. I have drafted a letter to go out with our annual survey to parents, revised and updated our policy summary booklet and identified several policies which are due for review by the appropriate committees. I have proposed monitoring and evaluation as the topic for our non-business meeting this term, and booked a joint training meeting for all local primary governors with one of our village schools which has just had an Office for Standards in Education inspection.

In fact, I haven't left much for the other governors to do but nod and say "Yes, Joan."

The more I meet and talk to other governors, the more I realise that most governing bodies are dependent on one person - mostly the chairman, but sometimes the vice-chairman - doing a disproportionate amount of work. I must admit they are not always terribly popular.

Chairmen in particular can develop such a close relationship with the headteacher that the rest of the governing body is made to feel superfluous. Often, through the best intentions and dedication to the job, they can dominate committees and appointment panels. Workaholics are not good at delegation. At the end of yesterday afternoon's preparation I found myself wondering if at some point I had crossed the narrow line between oiling the wheels and rail-roading my colleagues.

In my defence, I should say that the meeting will focus almost exclusively on planning which means governors are well informed about current issues and I have never had to report an "emergency" decision taken between meetings.

Most of the serious work of our governing body takes place in committees and working parties. We try to make sure that all governors participate in these and I leave myself off as many as possible. The non-business meeting every term which is given over to a particular education issue is a useful opportunity for the sort of discussion which could seriously clog up the agenda.

The business meeting is just that - a chance to review progress since last term and plan our future work. And I still think its success can best be judged on whether it finishes before the pubs shut.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the East Midlands

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