School Governors: A Question and Answer Guide, By Joan Sallis, ButterworthHeinemann, #163;9.99. 0 7506 2283 0. Lindy Hardcastle welcomes Joan Sallis's advice for governors.
For those of us who always turn first to the problem page of any magazine,Joan Sallis's Question and Answer Guide is compulsive reading. It is perhaps the only governors' handbook I have ever read at a sitting, enthralled by the plot and the characters. Dictatorial heads, downtrodden teachers and interfering governors battle over protocol and policies, appointments, discipline and opting-out.
The format is attractive in three ways. We can recognise and sympathise with some problems most of us have encountered as governors, test our knowledge of legislation and good practice by attempting to anticipate the answers, and very often rejoice in the knowledge that however awful our own head or fellow governors may be, they are not as bad as THAT!
Relationships, between heads and governors, chairs and rank-and-file, "A teams and B teams", LEAs and parents are at the heart of this book. Many governors, faced with a situation where they feel powerless, ignored or resented may serve their term and quietly depart. The braver ones, who want to serve their schools in a meaningful way, write to Joan Sallis. This is the second book of questions and answers drawn from The TES's Agenda column, and as the 1993 Act and OFSTED begin to affect schools, there is little indication, from the letters Joan receives, that relationships are easing.
The tone of the many questions suggests that governor training has a long way to go. But although they are often vague about legislation, governors often have an instinctive feeling that the current practice in their school cannot be right, and most questions are along the lines of "Are they, or we, allowed to do that?" Joan always resists the temptation to say "I wouldn't start from here." Nor does she simply state that any given situation is bad practice, or illegal, and must be changed. She always suggests strategies for reviewing practice, extending influence, accessing information and breaking down barriers which involve tact, patience and the earning of trust. And if all else fails "shut your eyes and think hard about the children. Better to offend an adult than to damage a child."
The strong message here is that it is worth working and fighting for good governing bodies where everyone participates in governors' meetings, serves on committees, has the opportunity to be trained, is fully involved in making policies and appointments and is welcomed into the classroom.
The book is divided into sections under such headings as the curriculum, representation, meetings, roles and relationships and management to enable anxious governors to home in on their particular area of concern. Whatever your problem, Joan Sallis has probably come across something depressingly like it before. But she does more than simply provide strategies for solving specific difficulties. Taken as a whole, this book lays down a consistent approach where the values of equality of opportunity, consultation and professional development most heads would apply to staff are extended to the governing body. Governors should be a resource and an asset to their schools. our children deserve no less.
Lindy Hardcastle is chairman of governors at Lady Jane Grey Primary School, Groby, Leicestershire.