30th December 1994 at 00:00
Joan sallis answers governors' questions.

I've had a senior position in a company, where a chairman who couldn't carry the day on a vital matter would feel undermined and might have been expected to resign.

I didn't think it would arise in a school, but we now have some big issues before us and I have had to consider what I would do if - as seems quite likely - my fellow governors made a decision which I had openly opposed. Pride, honour, call it what you will, surely requires resignation?

Many things which come up on the governing body of a school are different from what would happen in business, not least because the participants are volunteers, are independent, and represent different interests to which they owe a secondary but still substantial loyalty.

I also think that the parallel breaks down in the nature of the chair's role. Perhaps that is changing to some extent, but it is quite common in business for the chair also to be chief executive - which you are not in a school - and to have more personal responsibility and status.

A chair of a governing body is primarily a team-leader, a public representative of colleagues' majority view, and a good offices agent where feathers need to be smoothed, hands held, or differences reconciled.

His or her opinion carries no more weight than that of any other governor - except that she or he has a casting vote in the event of a tied vote - and to be outvoted is, in my view, of no more significance than for any other governor in a minority. If the matter was so important to you that you felt you could not operate or publicly defend the majority view, then you might feel you had to go, but I don't see that your position, or honour or pride otherwise requires it.

Some governing bodies still operate on a rather more traditional view of the chair's role, but I keep coming back to the fact that in education law the chair has no special powers to act, except in an emergency or with delegated authority from colleagues where this can legally be bestowed.

I also believe that, given that most governors have livings to earn as well, we shall not have a wide choice of people to be chair unless we accept the role as that of first among equals rather than the repository of special authority. I also believe that a more collegiate style is healthier and, in the end, liberates more energy for the school.

You recently wrote about the opportunities created by slimming down the national curriculum. Should we, as governors, be consulted about this? I cannot imagine it happening in our school. We might be told of changes to be made as a matter of courtesy, but I'm not even sure of that. The curriculum is a closed book to us.

Many governors have not yet grasped their responsibility for the curriculum, fear it, are not given a chance, or both. Often they spend a disproportionate time on minor premises matters because these are rarely controversial and don't infringe on anyone's territory.

Yet governors have had responsibility (in theory) for the content of a school's learning programme ever since there have been governors - hundreds of years.

This can't be changed quickly, but at a time when the boundaries of the national curriculum have been redrawn in a way which gives schools more discretion, it is important that they question and feel ownership of the school's own responses.

You should try to get "Dearing and after" on the agenda and in a form where the school's proposals are brought to you in an open way for your views.

Governors cannot be accountable for what they have not even seen - and an OFSTED inspection will highlight this.

Nor does it make sense to have responsibility for the budget, personnel or even premises unless you have a share in the learning which alone gives meaning to these responsibilities.

This is not to say that governors should involve themselves in the detail of classroom practice or teaching styles, but the content and balance of the curriculum are their concern.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 071-782 3200.

Joan Sallis regrets that she cannot answer questions privately.

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