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Joan Sallis answers your questions

I am an experienced governor but still find it hard to work out where we stand on support versus monitoring. Some colleagues never adopt the holding-to-account role, but see themselves as a sort of extended PTA, singing the school's praises, promoting its image and helping in practical ways - refreshments for open evenings, writing up all the (good) school news for the press, etc. I fear we could become unofficial PR agencies.

There are many governing bodies where the accountability role is weak and the promotional one paramount. I said "promotional" rather than "supportive" because support worth having includes challenge. The truth is that we do perform both functions, but it is important to hang on to the holding-the-school-to-account bit.

The PR role we perform for the school, but the duty to call it to account is to the parents and children and the community it serves. We form part of a strong tradition which embraces boards of companies, juries, the magistracy and trustees, all of which have an ultimate accountability to society.

I doubt whether the accountability role has ever been fully accepted by educational professionals. I think understanding of it has become weaker rather than stronger since the Taylor report i n 1977. Professional protection of territory seems more vigorous, and the slightest departure from the supporters' club role may cause defensive behaviour.

Changes in regulations have gradually become more slanted towards the support role, and high-powered leadership training seems to have made teachers more protective of their special skills rather than more confident in them so that they are comfortable with accountability.

The paradox is that the governor training and support services have never been stronger or more effective in promoting accountability among governors themselves, but acceptance of it within the schools may if anything be weaker.

The Government must be held at least partly responsible. The last two Education Acts have brought in many changes which in my view weaken the role of governors.

Fortunately schools are still relatively open and flexible. I rejoice in governing bodies which bang the drum for their schools, help them in practical ways and encourage teachers in all their skills and strengths. Do not soft-pedal support, but stay watchful.

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 where answers to questions will appear

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