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Stop leaning back on your chair

Peter Kerr on why he had to quit his seat at a primary school

OF all the many decisions I have had to make as a primary school parent governor over the past six years, two stand out. The first was when I agreed to be nominated to chair the governing body in September 1996. The second was when I decided to tell my fellow governors last May that I would not be nominating myself to continue as chair from September.

My simple reason is, well, simple. My son will be leaving the primary next July and hence my main motive for becoming a governor at his school will have gone. My more considered rationale is that I would prefer to aid my successor rather than leaving the school alone to do so. This raises the issue of how governing bodies can best plan to implement the handover from one chair to another and that begs the question as to whether there should be a time limit on any one chair holding office.

I am not at all happy with the "new" regulations allowing self-nomination of chairs and vice-chairs, as it appears to be an anomaly in an otherwise democratic practice. I know that I am lucky in having the respect and support of my colleagues but I am equally aware that such trust, however real, offers the potential for abuse.

I have become concerned by the "special case" way in which chairs of governing bodies are treated at all levels of education from the Department for Education and Skills upwards. The corporate nature of governing bodies is not easily maintained when the Government sends chairs individual documents - rather than to all governors - and when these sometimes differ in style and content from those covering the same issues sent to headteachers.

I am also concerned that governing bodies can become reliant upon the work of one individual person, the chair, without planning for their succession. If any guidance exists on avoiding this scenario it will probably have been sent only to the current chair.

The only solution that makes sense is to limit the number of years that a governor can be chair. I would suggest that three years would make sense, as it would give all governors on a four-year mandate one year to learn the ropes before embarking on a chairpersonship. It would also mean that all chairs would focus their attention on grooming potential successors in their final year.

If my experience is typical then the alternative is the automatic acceptance by the governing body that, because you are doing a good job, you are there in perpetuity. This is not good for the individual chair, the governing body, nor the school as a whole.

Chairs are for sitting on, they get scraped, they get stood-upon but please, fellow governors, for the good of your governing bodies, stop leaning back on your chair!

Peter Kerr is an executive committee member of the National Association of Governors and Managers, and council member for parents and governors on the National Association for Primary Education. He is currently chair of governors at Scott lower school, Bedford.

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