24th March 1995 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions. Our chair of governors has a demanding full-time job and political responsibilities, yet is voted in year after year.

The governor role seems to come third which puts a quite unreasonable burden on the head who has great difficulty getting hold of him when he is urgently needed.

I get many letters like this, but it is only fair to say that from my travels,I do now find that the old-style chairs who are totally unable or unwilling to give the job appropriate commitment are gradually giving way to a different breed.

You yourself say he is "voted in year after year" - he is chair only with the consent of the rest of you, even if that consent is passive. I know it is hard to change the accepted order, and that often individual governors who feel as you do think they are the only ones who care. I should be surprised if there are not others who feel as strongly as you, who simply lack leadership.

Unless there is a natural power group supporting this governor which is too strong to outvote, the solution is with you and your fellow governors.

As I often say, if being too nice is your problem a sure cure is to shut your eyes and think hard about the children. Offending an adult is not pleasant but harming children is much worse. You also have to have a plan. Unless you have a willing candidate before the autumn meeting, and have a proposer and seconder ready, your chair will be voted in again.

Autumn is a long way off, you'll say. There is, in fact, a procedure for voting a chair out of office in mid-term, with proper notice and statement of reasons. This may be more drastic than you want, but if your chair knew of it - and knew there was widespread dissatisfaction with the small amount of time he gives to the task - he might prefer to resign.

If you are stuck with him for six months, you will have to work even harder at planning your work so that you delegate all the functions you legally can to committees, as far as possible anticipate decisions needing to be taken between meetings and, by laying down clear polices and guidelines, obviate constant consultation.

Your head can help you by taking a little time each meeting to look forward, so that you can plan to deal with foreseeable needs. Remember that the chair has no power to act on behalf of the governors anyway, except in an emergency or in fulfilment of a decision made by the governing body. Seeing the chair as more a team-builder, reducing the number of (often illegal) decisions made by him alone, sharing out the "ceremonial" duties among you, all help to make neglect less serious. It may also help you to find a willing successor if the job is shown by these means to be less up-front and onerous.

I'm afraid our head is becoming unpopular with staff. They say he only listens to two or three people. Individual governors are continually being approached by some of the other 60-odd teachers complaining of lack of consultation, reporting particular grievances about unfair treatment and incidents where they feel the head has behaved unreasonably. What action can we take to put these matters right?

It is bad news when the staff go to governors with tales and the practice should be discouraged. The law did not give us the role of general trouble-shooters in schools and we can't as individuals find out the rights and wrongs of a dispute, which needs to be done in a structured way, if at all.

Second, teachers must be positively encouraged to use "the proper channels". They should talk to senior colleagues and, if necessary, speak plainly to the person who has upset them. Any serious concerns about decision-making or consultation with staff in general should be discussed with their own representatives on the governing body, who can bring them to the notice of the chair if appropriate.

Governors must involve themselves fully in the responsibilities which are legally theirs but so often not assumed particularly staff appointments (especially where internal candidates are involved), budget allocations between departments, and pay allowances. They should be careful to work to open and consistent criteria so their decisions are seen to be fair.

Finally, if a teacher's problem is a "grievance" in the technical sense, he or she should be encouraged to take it up formally and governors should have procedures in place for dealing with such cases.

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