10th October 1997 at 01:00

Q I don't know much about the workings of church schools and how they differ: in my village there is just the one school so we all use it. I was silly enough to agree to stand as parent governor which I now realise is a lonely role. What I didn't expect was that the other governors (all but three I now know appointed by the church) are a very close-knit group and seem to have special powers. I often feel excluded, I know the church governors have meetings on their own and I don't know what they discuss. I don't get very far with trying to put parents' viewpoints, but what I mind most is the air of secrecy and these separate meetings.

A Let me first assure you that foundation governors do not have any special status. Whatever the type of school, every governor is equal and I do know that many people who train and support governors are always emphasising this and reminding their governors that the foundation group must never operate as a bloc. In fairness, I think you are very unlucky and that in many church schools it is scarcely apparent how the various members were appointed.

If a group of governors in any kind of school are meeting on their own to discuss school matters - unless they have been elected as a committee, of course - that is wrong and nobody should tolerate it. You must speak to the chairman about it and, if necessary, invoke your LEA. There should be no meetings which all governors are not aware of and any decisions made in this way are not legal decisions.

But before you do anything just try to make sure that the meetings are about something that concerns all governors. Foundation governors - often not all of them - are sometimes also trustees under the school's trust deed and may have responsibilities connected with church property or finance. Once you have cleared this possibility out of the way, you must not compromise on the issue of secret meetings.

There will be a member of the foundation group who is a current parent - at least one must be included by law as well as the elected one - and I strongly recommend that you build a relationship with this person with the hope that you can act together. Convey that you consider him or her to be a natural ally in matters concerning parents. You may also find that your head and your teacher governor(s) are sympathetic to your feeling of isolation.

* A booklet written by Joan Sallis for church foundation governors will shortly be published by Northamptonshire County Council's Governor Services, a companion guide to those already published for other governors.

Q I always feel that all staff should be represented. Can we establish a place for an elected member of the support staff?

A I agree with your sentiments but you cannot establish an extra governor place for this purpose. What you can do (and we have done in our school) is to reserve a co-option for a person nominated by the support staff - from our allotted number of co-options - and ask those staff to elect the individual.

The government now seems to be disposed to provide for representation of support staff in their own right in any reforms of school governing bodies which they may introduce. Any support expressed by governing bodies while the idea is in the air would be influential.

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