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Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

We seem to spend a lot of time rubber-stamping decisions the chair has taken on our behalf: things such as approving the wording of an advertisement for a new deputy or the terms of reference for a new committee; or rejecting out of hand a complaint from a parent which we had never seen and which seemed to be serious. The chair is very close to the headteacher and I think accepts many of his proposals without question.

Sometimes I feel the rest of us have no job to do and no status. The chair also put herself on the committee for the annual review of the head's performance and chose the other two governors herself. Am I being unreasonable in worrying about all this?

You are certainly not being unreasonable and it is not an uncommon complaint. None of the issues you mention should be decided by the head and chair alone unless they involve only matters of fact, have come up before and a policy has been agreed or, in the case of complaints, there is a precedent to follow.

To take your examples in order: the law requires the appointment of a deputy head to be handled from start to finish by an elected sub-committee of governors. Secondly, the whole governing body should approve the terms of reference for a new committee; delegation is a serious business.

As for the choice of a group to review the head's performance, this is a vital as well as tricky role for governors and the group should be formally elected; a governor or governors should also be appointed to carry out a second review if the verdict is disputed.

Before you tackle this, try to get some allies among your colleagues; bad habits can be hard to break. Tell them how much legal responsibility is invested in the governing body and how little in individuals, and how dangerous it is if a decision which was not properly made goes wrong.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see www governorsask_ the_expert where answers to submitted questions will appear

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