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Joan Sallis answers your questions

I have been a comprehensive parent governor for some years. I have recently blotted my copy-book and upset the head. I was chair of the PTA and have written about general matters in our local magazine. I am also on the committee of the local governors' association.

Recently, I was invited to speak about the challenges and rewards of the role at the annual parents' meeting of a school in another neighbourhood which finds it hard to get governors, especially parents. The school is 10 miles away and in another LEA, so is not a competitor.

I illustrated points from my own experience, but only everyday issues and nothing you could call private. We have had some bad behaviour problems in our school and an Ofsted report with a few criticisms which we have put right, but I had the sense not to touch on these or say anything to our school's disadvantage.

Nevertheless, our head has taken offence and given me a terrible telling off. I apologised for causing concern, but I made it clear that I hadn't said anything I would mind him hearing. I should like to know what you think.

I think it's a natural thing for a less fortunate school to ask and for you to accept. I have spoken to parents at another school and taken part in local governor training exercises, and like you was always careful not to tread on delicate ground for my own school.

With hindsight it would have been wise for you to mention it to your head beforehand, and give an assurance that no controversial subjects from your own experience would be covered.

But if your school hadn't had a few spots of bother, there would probably have been no trouble at all afterwards, and your head might have been proud to have a governor worth listening to. Try to see it in this light. You can imagine what professional sensitivities we are up against when any school is going through a difficult patch, and your head's anxiety is very natural.

Believe me, you will soon be very much valued again as a loyal and experienced friend of your school, and next time if you explain what is involved beforehand you will probably have no trouble.

Can a headteacher stand as a parent governor of his own child's school?

There is no legal reason why a head should not stand in any capacity as a governor in a school other than his or her own. I have to say that I think it might sometimes be a role that is difficult to make a success of, especially if it were a competing school or near enough to be a potential feeder or follow-on school (think of problems such as those in the previous question). Relationships with the head and staff might also be touchy.

The 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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