Get rid of the time-servers

You need the right chair to start the year, says Jane Phillips. And that may mean voting out an old hand

The chair of governors must be re-elected at the start of every academic year. It is one of the most vital decisions to make and should be seen as the first serious item of business.

For new governors who find themselves voting for a stranger at the first meeting, the process may seem a formality, but it should not be. The chair is critical to the success of a governing body. It is now a time-consuming job and much more "hands-on" than the figurehead of governing bodies past. The chair needs to keep in close contact with the head between meetings and work with himher to set agendas for meetings.

Do not re-elect a chair just because he or she has been there for a long time. They may well be trying to do a good job but there could be someone else with fresh enthusiasm and commitment. The requirement to hold the election by secret ballot, introduced in April 2000, allows people not to vote for colleagues of many years standing without causing offence and provides a real chance to discuss the desired qualities of the role. It is arguably a good thing for the chair to change every three to five years - indeed there would be nothing to stop your governing body from making that a convention.

It is worth giving some thought to the role of the vice-chair, who is also elected. This is often seen as a non-job, but why not give specific tasks to the vice-chair to ease the burden on the chair: overseeing the annual report for example?

Perhaps you have thought about putting yourself forward as chair but are not sure where to start?

The clerk should ensure all governors are invited to nominate themselves for the post of chair or vice-chair prior to the election meeting. You do not need a proposer or seconder.

All candidates' names should then be put forward formally on the agenda for the meeting. Where names have been put forward then the "list" is closed for the meeting. However, if no names are received in advance, candidates may put themselves forward at the meeting itself. The election must be a secret ballot.

No one employed at the school or who is a pupil at the school may be a chair. The clerk acts as chair during the election but does not have a vote or a casting vote.

Any governor up for election must withdraw while candidates are discussed - this is a good opportunity to look at the experience and expertise of those standing. Candidates cannot vote.

It is worth taking time to get the chair you deserve - a year can seem like a long time if you get it wrong!

Matters Arising takes a monthly look at topical issues and concerns on governors' agendas. If there is something you feel we should cover, email karen.thornton@tes.co.uk

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