4th September 1998 at 01:00
Q Can you please advise me as a teacher-governor? Until now I have been on all four main committees: curriculum, finance, personnel and discipline.Before school finished for the summer, the head said we would be reviewing committee membership to ensure that there was no bias. I fear I may be part of the review. The school is in a rural area so I have no one nearby to ask what happens about teacher-governors generally. I feel it is important that teachers are properly represented.

A And so you should. There is no reason why a teacher governor should not serve on all committees and it is considered good practice to make committees as representative of the interests on the governing body as possible, subject only to the restrictions which apply to individual governors.

These are: a) that they should not participate in any discussion from which they might as individuals stand to gain (and that does mean personally, eg you would not be precluded from taking part in a budget decision just because it might affect the funding of your area of work) and, b) that care should be taken to reserve enough governors outside committees to serve on an appeal panel where the decision being made might give rise to an appeal. This second qualification might well benefit you if you are the only teacher governor, as you might well prefer to be involved in the appeal in certain circumstances.

I should add - though I hope it's obvious - that you should not take part in a decision about an excluded pupil if you were involved (directly or as a witness) in the events leading up to the exclusion.

It is for the governing body as a whole to elect committee members. They may of course as a group choose whom they consider most suitable. What they may not properly do is reject you on the ground that you are a teacher-governor. In referring to bias, your head may merely be indicating a desire not to have too much challenge on committees. It is, on the other hand, possible that you have discussed matters too narrowly from a teacher's point of view and not considered issues enough in the round. A teacher-governor has a representative role and should always bring teachers' concerns to the governing body, but he or she is not a delegate with a particular mandate, and like other governors sometimes needs to put sectional interests aside and consider what is best for the school as a whole. For instance you might say "Most of my colleagues would be against shortening the lunch break but after listening to everybody I have to say I think it's the best solution to xyz."

Q In the past year we have got very tired of our chairman's style which doesn't allow much participation. Can we vote him out?

A There is a procedure for voting a chair out of office. Reasons and notice must be given and you will find the details in your "Guide to the Law". But at this time of year it is not necessary as you elect your chair every year at the autumn meeting. Don't forget, however, that you must have another nomination organised before the meeting, if there is no other candidate you have no option but to elect the same person again. I know this sounds elementary but you would be surprised how many governors say to me "Everybody wanted a change, but when it came to it, they (note the 'they') went and elected Charlie again." Don't forget,too ,that it is kinder to warn Charlie that there may be another candidate.

The TES apologises for an error in the Agenda of August 21. Paragraphs about voting and consensus were transposed into an answer about parent governors on pay committees. To set the record straight we print the question again on consensus.

Q I am an experienced governor but have recently started at a new school where the chair never asks for a vote, but talks around the issue until he has reached consensus. Is this good practice?

A It depends. Many good governing bodies rarely vote - though I would say "never" is extreme - and genuine consensus can be a mark of a group of people starting with different points of view (but the same aims) who can value what others say, and are ready to at least compromise. On the other hand, an appearance of ready consensus often covers a simmering pot of resentment against a chair who is too dominating. Such a governing body is very unhealthy and liable to split under pressure, and its decisions will also miss the enrichment which comes from genuine consensus.Anyone who suspects that the body they have joined is one of these should try to slow things down by asking on any important matter - "Can we go round the table on this one?" Members will soon gain confidence and expect more involvement.

There is no regulation which says you have to vote on every issue. Every governing body will develop a style on its own and, ideally, find ways of getting through the business briskly without leaving any member uneasy.

Any group of a dozen or more is not going to agree on every issue. Also, with a lot of work to get through, most reasonable people will compromise to some degree. In the last resort a chair has to take a vote and if the outcome is just intolerable for a member he or she may ask for dissent to be recorded.

At the end, the value and purpose of bringing together so many interest groups is to have the broadest possible approach to any problem. If there is trust, respect and common purpose a certain amount of disagreement may be contained without difficulty. Disagreement should never be stifled.

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