17th November 1995 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

We have been looking at a code of practice which has been drawn up somewhere else. The idea is that we should adopt or adapt it for our own use.During the discussion the head suggested that we should add that all governors' business is confidential, just to be on the safe side. We have one governor who is apt to be indiscreet. Would it be wrong to adopt such a rule?

Your question explains perfectly why I am so uneasy about the recent interest in voluntary codes of practice. If a code has no official standing and is seen as a document which governors can alter, the temptation to add a prohibition on any action which some governor has taken, will become very strong. The result could be a code which is long and prescriptive at best and illegal at worst. I think your governing body's proposal is the latter, since the whole spirit of the law is that in general governors' business is open, and exceptions should be kept to a minimum. It is also clear that confidentiality not only has to be contracted into but should be confined to matters affecting individual privacy. You should as a governing body make it absolutely clear when you decide to make an item confidential that breaches by members will be treated severely.

There is no official code of practice for governors other than the regulations in your Guide to the Law. Look carefully at anything which is presented as such, because there are various drafts circulating and some contain illegalities. The headteachers' associations are discussing the issue with governors' associations and the DFEE, and if anything results from this discussion it will be clearly presented as an agreed document.

You should not be afraid to ask about the background to an issue being discussed if you are late for a meeting or have for any other reason missed an earlier stage. Far better to suffer a little embarrassment than be ill equipped to contribute.

We have been wondering whether governors are required to declare their financial interests on appointment. It seems logical that they should as they hold an office of trust and these days handle a lot of money.

A topical question indeed. There is no requirement in the law or regulations to do so. But if a decision is made by the governing body from which a member might personally gain eg a member with a central heating business when governors are discussing whom to engage for repairs to the school heating system that member should declare the interest and take no part. Failure to do this might invalidate the decision as well as being a breach of objectivity.

I have heard it suggested that there should be a formal requirement to declare interests on appointment. I don't really think it is necessary on a body as local as a governing body where we mostly know each other well, and trust each other, though I could see that there might be a stronger argument in a GM school where the freedom of governing bodies to engage in various business transactions is much greater.

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