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Governance should be taught to teachers;Agenda;Governors

Joan Sallis answers your questions

Q. Over the years the headteacher has moved a long way towards a sharing relationship with governors at our comprehensive.

But we work in a compartment sealed off from the rest of the school. The bulk of the teachers seem to know nothing about why schools have governors or what we do and I would say their attitude ranges from indifference to slightly mocking hostility.

Middle management is little better.

Surely they ought to be thinking about the people who, in the end, decide their staffing and department budgets and whom they will wish to influence if their department is ever in trouble, even if they don't think about being senior managers themselves one day?

Even the deputy heads have little direct involvement.

Am I right to worry about this?

A. This is something that concerns me a lot in my travels round the system. Awareness of governance ought to be firmly embedded in every school with all staff taking an interest in who their governors are and how they work. In the long run it won't be healthy without such awareness.

As to who's to blame, if we start at the beginning we must look at initial teacher training, which seems to contain very little about any aspect of public involvement in schools.

Because of their age and circumstances it isn't an easy task to persuade young people just entering teaching that there is any legitimacy in the role of parents and governors - it's certainly the hardest thing I do when I (very occasionally) get asked - but essential.

The subject also needs to be firmly embedded in the various schemes for in-service training for middle management and intending and serving heads.

Within the school the most important influence is the head. You have done well to reach such a good relationship with yours, but I should be even more impressed if you had added that he saw it as a duty and a challenge to increase the awareness and influence the attitudes of the staff on a continuing basis and convey to them his personal support for governors' role.

The relationship between governors and head is not a personal fiefdom. It should be shared by deputies, not just in the interests of good management but also their careers, while senior managers and a range of subject teachers should be brought in to talk with governors about their work on a regular basis.

Governing bodies themselves are also responsible for encouraging such good practices and for making sure that they have good arrangements for committing all their members to regular involvement in classes at work. Nothing provides a better basis for relationships than shared enthusiasm for children's learning.

Governors should also ensure that their decisions are visible to staff, not only in the sense of reporting what has been decided but in demonstrating that decisions are made on a basis of consistent and well-based principles which are also open.

A governing body which takes an interest in teachers' personal achievements and shows concern for their well-being and working conditions is also making a big contribution.

Teacher governors can do a great deal but often have a very limited view of their role. As well as listening to what colleagues think about issues of the day, bringing their concerns to governors and reporting back responsibility, they should be helping colleagues to understand the role of governors and looking for ways of bringing staff and governors into contact. At best they can become a strong bridge, not only increasing other governors' understanding of staff but also improving the way teachers perceive governors.

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