11th November 1994 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions.

At almost every meeting, long papers are circulated which we have to try to discuss. The chairman gives us reading time, but I don't always feel competent to contribute after such a hasty perusal.

This is a bad habit and all too easy to get into. In a few cases it can't be helped: a late circular, a budget print-out which only comes at certain fixed times, an urgent matter which has blown up.

But far too many papers are tabled which could well have been done in time for circulation. First, we shouldn't be using our precious meeting time doing something which we could have done at home, namely reading. Have you ever heard teachers criticised for regularly using up lessons on "silent reading"?

Second, the whole point is to think about things as well as read them, and it is bound to diminish the quality of discussion if papers have been only hastily skimmed.

Finally, and most important of all, it is an instrument of inequality.

People read at different rates, have varying levels of education and knowledge of the issues and the jargon, and English may be a second language for some.

You can't eliminate these differences, but you can reduce them if you give people the chance to read at their own pace and in privacy, look things up and ask questions. In short, carry on complaining.

Do you agree with an agenda where every item is timed? Ours comes in that form - this is the chairman's wish and I accept he's a busy man - but I don't think one hour every term is really enough to make all the necessary decisions for a big comprehensive.

Some items are given only two minutes, which allows no discussion at all.

The only ones which have 10 or 15 minutes are the less important - like catering arrangements for the sixth form end-of-year party.

Your complaint is not really so much about a timetabled agenda as a one-hour meeting.

I think it's absurd, and the only conclusion one can come to is that the governing body is not operating at all, that the chair has everything sewn up, and that the agenda is a means of control not a programme for a meeting.

You must tackle these more fundamental problems first I'm afraid. If others are dissatisfied you must plan an effective protest and, when the time comes, elect a chair who does have time for a proper meeting and who does want other governors to play a part. Remember your chair is there with your consent.

A good chair, who is also a team builder, may well decide to have a rough plan for the meeting, with a suggested target finishing time, so that governors can discuss properly the really meaty items and therefore voluntarily restrain themselves from rambling on about things which are interesting but not so important. This plan for the use of the time should only be a suggestion, however, and opportunity should always be given for governors to accept or modify it.

We all have different views of what is important and we operate by mutual agreement. Remember it is your meeting, your agenda and - yes - your chair.

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