29th August 1997 at 01:00
Q A teacher governor lives with the owner of a small catering company which the school uses for one-off events: an in-service day, a party for school-leavers, that sort of thing. Should he declare this interest and should he be present when the question of a catering assignment comes up? Does the fact that they are not married make any difference?

A I'll deal with the last question first. The regulation on governors' personal interest is regulation 14 of Statutory Instruction 1503 of 1989 and the schedule amplifying this regulation extends the restriction to a spouse (defined elsewhere as someone living as man and wife) or relative living with the governor, so the teacher's partner in this case is certainly covered.

Governors do not have to record their possible financial interests on a permanent register, as MPs do - but the Audit Commission strongly recommends that they should. In any case, however, a governor in the situation of your teacher member should declare the relationship at the time when the catering issue comes up and should play no part in the decision.

Q Our head claims that he has an absolute right to attend any governors' meeting because he is a governor - and he includes the meeting at which we review a permanent exclusion. Surely this is a matter of "judge and jury"?

A A head's right to attend most meetings of the governing body does not depend on whether or not he or she is a governor.

But the word "absolute" is wrong. The governors' Regulations (SI 1503 of 1989), in the schedule to Regulation 14, say clearly that a headteacher or other governor who has been involved professionally in a disciplinary action

against a pupil (for example, as the headteacher, who would normally make the exclusion decision, or perhaps teacher governor if he or she happens to be the authorised deputy for this purpose acting in the case in the head's absence) should not be present when the decision is made.

The same applies to the parent of the pupil or of any other pupil directly involved in the relevant incidents, and to any witness who happens to be a governor, though the right of these individuals to give evidence is emphasised.

Normally the head will be present while the panel of governors is hearing evidence and representations from parents, and will be able to state the case for the school. But all those with a direct interest as defined must then withdraw, leaving only the panel appointed by the governors to discuss the case and make a decision.

Q I am the school's office manager and finance officer. The head wants me to chair the finance committee. Can I do this? I know teachers can't.

A No. The restriction on members of staff chairing a committee with delegated powers applies to all staff at the school. In any case, it is for the governing body to decide even if you were eligible.

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