24th October 1997 at 01:00
Question: Our governing body will be nine-strong when one new parent governor and a teacher governor have been elected. Our three co-options were the leader of the village play-group, the vicar (it is not a church school) and an accountant, and those we saw as "musts". We desperately want someone with personnel experience and someone to look after building problems - and we have the ideal people living locally. We would all like to co-opt them as well. Surely that is up to us?

Answer: The exact sizes of governing bodies were laid down in the 1986 Act and yours is complete, so you cannot have any more full voting co-optees until you have a vacancy.

There is no reason, however, why you should not approach one or both of the two people you have in mind and say that you would like to have invited them had it been possible, and ask whether they would like to come to your meetings as observers and take an interest in the school. They can't vote and have to be careful not to get involved in anything controversial, but there is no reason why they should not provide information and suggestions.

Two warnings. First, you must bear in mind that it will not then be easy to pass them over when vacancies arise so you must be fairly sure you would want them. Second, personnel issues tend to be either controversial, confidentia l or both, so this help might be limited.

I believe there is a case for more flexibility of governing body membership in very small schools. I accept that the same jobs have to be done as in larger schools, and when you allow for those who are barred from chairing because they are employees, there are very few left for key roles. Yet one doesn't want to force higher numbers of governors on all schools since that could be absurd in the very smallest and might be a burden in many rural communities. I think a really good change would be for the Government to allow schools with up to 100 pupils discretion to co-opt up to six instead of three if they have problems. With a national consultation in progress on many issues like this, it is a good time to air them.

Q Our chair strongly advocated a candidate for co-option and several of us followed his lead. It was a tight vote but he got in - afterwards I learned it was his brother-in-law. Was this correct? If not, what can we do about it? I have to admit he's a valuable addition to the team.

A Your chair should have declared the family link and refrained from voting. This isn't exactly a relationship from which he could personally gain, but it is acquiring a source of possible

undue influence within the governing body by tacit deception as well as depriving you of a genuinely free choice. I doubt whether on reflection you and your colleagues would want to reverse the decision.

On the other hand, you may not be happy about re-electing such a person as the chair when the time comes. I think that you should make an opportunity early in the school year to remind yourselves at a full meeting about important working-together rules - like declaring an interest. Also when important decisions are being made in future, some public-spirited governor could make a point of saying "I take it nobody has a relationship with the companyany of the candidatesapplicants." Once bitten twice shy I'm afraid, and next time it could be more serious.

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