30th June 1995 at 01:00
Joan sallis answers your questions. Is there really no way we can vote out of office a parent governor who gets everybody's back up and obstructs our work? I think we are all of one mind, and people who give up their time willingly do not take kindly to having it wasted. As chair I am expected to do something, but my efforts to restrain our colleague seem to be like a red rag to a bull. He feels he is being muzzled and persecuted, but in truth he is negative, awkward and irrelevant.

There is, in effect, no means of sacking an elected governor as long as he or she attends meetings, and avoids bankruptcy and law-breaking. In voluntary work you can't choose your colleagues, but there are various ways in which you can make your disapproval plain.

A governing body which is working well as a team is usually in a good position to impose its standards quietly on awkward members. Do the others leave it all to you? If so he may think it's just you, and perhaps others ought to back you up more.

I always think it's a good thing for governors to put working together on the agenda for the first meeting of the school year. Governors should also talk about how they behave in their contacts with the school, to remind themselves and each other of habits of courtesy and respect and to make sure that new governors are brought on board. Sometimes loose cannons respond well to being given real battles to fight or at least some absorbing task. And don't entirely rule out the possibility that the occasional non-conformer may be right.

Our head is not a very strong personality and often uses me as a sounding board on something he wishes to do or to hold his hand when he has to take an action that might back-fire. He relies on me to warn him about the line particular governors might take - who would support something or make trouble and who might need softening up. There are also things which blow up between meetings and genuinely can't wait where I may have to say "go ahead". How much of this is my proper role? Should I try to discourage his dependence?

I am always inclined to be nervous about a chair usurping the role of the governors as a whole. Yet I know that these days it is not easy being a head, and access to one sympathetic and experienced person can be a great strength.

Being that person is a natural role for a chair with the right qualities.

I don't have much difficulty with you being used as a sounding board since it sounds as though the matters shared with you are mostly decisions the head could well make without reference to anybody - but he obviously needs that little bit of extra reassurance.

Such matters might include suspending a teacher pending some kind of inquiry for instance, dealing with a tricky relationship involving a staff member, a pupil discipline case where permanent exclusion is not in question, responding to a complaint or concern involving a parent or outside agency. I wouldn't encourage this if it were changing a reading scheme or pupil groupings, say, which ought to come to all governors, and I would only advise you to keep clear of any disciplinary case which escalates and on which you have been consulted at an earlier stage.

I have more mixed feelings about you warning about the particular line other governors might take. Clearly you are often able to help from your knowledge of your fellow governors by advising the best approach, but do be careful of any attempt to use you as a means of governor avoidance and especially as an ally in manipulating a debate.

Strictly speaking, a chair has no right to make decisions - except in an emergency. Such matters as switches of funds outside agreed limits, curriculum changes, admission limits, variations in building plans, internal promotions, approvals of the prospectus, the annual report to parents, the options, do not become emergencies just because someone needs an answer between governors' meetings.

Mostly problems arise because of a failure to plan properly, and that is a major part of a chair's leadership role - and to some extent a head's too. We are often seriously agenda-driven, and fail to anticipate things which are coming up.

A little time spent looking ahead and perhaps changing meeting dates if unavoidable, turning a committee into a special full meeting now and then, or getting instructions in advance from governors on the line you should take on a range of assumptions, is often all that is needed.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200

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