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Joan Sallis answers your governors' questions

I am a new governor but before I was elected I read a tremendous amount about the role and general education matters. Imagine my disappointment when our headteacher said round about June that there would not after all be a meeting that term, which was very busy with exams, and it was quite legal because we had had two for a special reason in the spring term, and we only had to have three a year.

Our chair complained and so we did have a short meeting just before the summer holiday. But we had already been told that we were mainly there to deal with formalities, receive reports on numbers taking exams, approve the budget, be informed of decisions on staff approved for pay increases and to note important dates and events.

The head has made it clear that we are not involved in curriculum matters, and the others tell me they never had any discussion of GCSE results or new appointments. There had even been cases of subjects being dropped or brought in which they only heard about from their children. Surely this isn't right?

It certainly isn't. It is true that the requirement for one meeting a term has been changed to a minimum of three a year. But the latest Education Act (2002) repeats the requirement for governors "to conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement" and also says that, except as otherwise provided,"'the conduct of the school shall be under the direction of the governing body".

You should have full information about the curriculum and a chance to discuss any changes. New regulations allow heads to appoint teachers without involving the governors in the interviews, but the body remains legally responsible for all appointments, complaints and appeals and for policies on many aspects of school life, including discipline.

In a secondary school this normally requires four or five committees meeting regularly as a minimum. Your governing body should be aware that even though it may have had nothing to do with relevant decisions it is still legally responsible for a range of things which could go wrong - on a school trip, for instance, or as a result of a bad appointment. Above all, if the school has a poor inspection report, governors will be held responsible for things they may never have known about and kept to a regime of supportive intervention for a long time.

Your local education authority should be alerted to what is going on. It will surely have a section dealing only with governor services and support and probably an attached inspector for every school.

TES welcomes your queries, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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