17th July 1998 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

Q I am in despair about our governing body. Its weaknesses must have influenced our head's decision to take early retirement, through ill health and budget problems. Our second looming OFSTED inspection also depresses him. Our chair is weak and has been unable to stop the governing body splitting all ways.

Parent governors in particular have no sense of working in a team or even as a group. They dissociate themselves among parents from decisions we have made and from each other, gossip in the playground about personal matters affecting staff and are driven by every bit of school-gate nonsense to pursue one will-o-the-wisp after another. The local authority governors are not trusted because of the budget cuts, so alternative possibilities for strong chairing will not find favour, yet the parent governor who tries to chair this rabble does not receive any loyalty either.

Even the arrangements for appointing a new head are chewed to pieces in the playground, so what hope have we?

A This is a gloomy picture, displaying all the worst weaknesses that can befall a governing body. I'm not clear what part you play yourself, but either you are a by-stander or you have tried in vain to instil in colleagues any appreciation of their role and its demands. Either way you must act - with support from any colleague who shows a glimmer of concern.

This is a group of people badly needing leadership and team-building, not to mention some straight talking. With, I imagine, a term's further leaderless back-biting before you get a new head, and then the possibility of an OFSTED inspection (can't you frighten a few colleagues by telling them OFSTED inspectors now inspect and grade us governors?), you must turn these terrible threats to your advantage.

Try to see your governor training officer and beg for an in-house team-building evening. Failing this, do you know any wise and experienced governor from another school who might do this for you? Some first-class people are emerging in this role.

Meanwhile, on a personal level, do not let any kind of disloyalty to corporate decisions pass without comment: being too "nice" may damage children's education. Keep on saying "We have no power or influence except together. Now especially we must stand by what is done in our name."

Talk - without naming names - to your acting head. If no outside help is forthcoming, think about having a special meeting just to talk about working together, basic rules and good practices. If you decide to do this, I'll write some notes on the most important issues. Every governing body may need a session like this at some time, and I think we all should set aside a bit of space in the first meeting of the school year to brush up on our good behaviour.

Finally, grab any chance of possible fresh blood by co-option, or make suggestions to the local authority for, perhaps, a good non-political appointee not tarred with their brush.

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