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Keeping control of the agenda

In my experience, it's easy for a governing body to be side- tracked into focusing on relatively unimportant issues. It's not intentional, but sometimes governors find it easier to deal with the "not very important" rather than the crucial. There are a number of reasons why this happens.

A head who doesn't have confidence in the governing body, or just thinks of it as an unfortunate hindrance that has to be contained, can manipulate the agenda or the discussion of specific items so that time is taken up on relatively unimportant issues. You can usually spot this by looking at previous minutes of meetings and noting how little discussion of curriculum issues, standards or budgets took place.

Sometimes an agenda is dominated by matters that are important to the local authority (and perhaps the Department for Children, Schools and Families), but that won't have much impact on your school. I well remember when I first became a governor. I spent hours discussing consultation documents from the then Department for Education and Skills, yet thinking that the views of our small school wouldn't make that much difference to what was decided.

Finally, endless items "for information" can make it difficult to discuss the important issues for the school. When I first became a governor, I was amazed to find that there was no opportunity for real discussion before item five or six because we had to trawl endlessly through information items.

Alan Wells

Education consultant and public speaker

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