16th December 1994 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions How can we convince our headteacher that we have nothing but good intentions? Every question or contribution to a discussion is treated as though there were some hidden meaning. He talks to governors about other governors in terms which shows his suspicions. When we discuss co-options he is always asking himself - and us - why anyone would want to be associated with our school; what could their agenda possibly be. I can't think anybody would put up with the frustrations we sometimes endure without a real commitment to the school.

What a heartfelt letter. I'm sure you will readily accept that many heads care passionately about their schools and so fear, quite irrationally in many cases, that there are people who could harm what they hold so dear. Remember too that there are a few who have had bad experiences of people playing party games with schools.

A small number of governors still use schools to prove some theory or advance some purposes of their own, but we must convince our heads and teachers that they are a minority: that most governors are people who know education is important, who have a commitment to a local school and who find schools very interesting.

I spend a lot of time with heads and often tackle them about their preoccupation with "where governors are coming from".

I urge them to believe that most of us have no hidden agendas and to believe also that there's little to be gained from mistrusting even those who might.

All we can do for our part is ensure that we don't ride hobby-horses, are eager to learn and share professional enthusiasms. Remember to pass on the nice things people say about the school and rejoice in its achievements - and try to involve governors in some practical supportive activity.

All that doesn't mean that we have to be uncritical (inside the school - always loyal outside its gates) or refrain from providing the occasional challenge to accepted ways of doing things when necessary, but only that we build on sound foundations and positive attitudes.

It often helps to be explicit about how and why we got involved, and to build in some opportunities for new governors to do so when they join us.

What would you think about a head who, having up to now been a governor, decides to stand down on the grounds that budget cuts make redundancies likely and he wants to stand aside from decisions which harm professional colleagues?

I could answer very briefly but it wouldn't be polite. A feeling of solidarity with professional colleagues is understandable, but any senior manager has to be prepared to take and stand by painful decisions when necessary. Nor would I have much respect for a head who wished to dissociate himself from decisions made by a body to which he recently belonged - as long as he believed they would be fair, open and honourable, of course. I hope you can persuade your head to change his mind, for it isn't good for a school to have hands washed all over the place.

It has always been the practice in this school for a parent governor to write "parents' notes" during or immediately after the governors' meeting. These communicate the decisions (with reasons, if this is appropriate) of particular interest to parents. The notes are discussed with the other parent governors and cleared with the head, and go out through pupil post. The head is is quite happy and parents say they welcome it.

Other governors have been happy too, but we now have a new and very stuffy LEA governor who says it is no more the parent governors' job than any other governors' to communicate with parents; that parents have no more right to early communication than anybody else; that any papers sent out should come from the governing body; and that it is a waste of school time and materials.

Surely there is no harm in this practice possibly it is even a good one.

I can certainly confirm that, provided the notes avoid classified material, are accurate and responsible (especially being careful not to quote individuals or give details of individuals' views or behaviour) it is not only proper but, in my view, good practice. You are lucky to have such an enlightened head.

Your new colleague is only one governor and, provided he cannot get majority support, his view is irrelevant. The main communication job does, of course, belong to the governing body as a whole, but I have always maintained that interest groups have a secondary loyalty to those they represent, and should communicate with them and on their behalf to the fullest extent they find practicable in their situation.

It is the most natural thing in the world for elected parent governors to take on the job of keeping in touch with parents on a day-by-day basis, and I have always argued for their freedom to do so.

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

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