Joan Sallis answers your questions
During the holidays I picked up from gossip at the shops that some of our pupils had been involved in serious wrongdoing at the end of term and that there would be a full inquiry with almost certainly at least one permanent exclusion and probably involving the police. I had heard nothing, so as a parent governor I felt foolish when I was told by outsiders. I rang our chairman when he returned from holiday and he said he could not reveal any details but that the matter was "in hand". This isn't the first time that I've realised how much the chairman keeps to himself and I'm sure a lot of things are settled behind closed doors which should come to governors. Can I insist on being informed about something so important, especially as I am a parent governor?
In general I do not of course defend a situation which I know is not unheard of, where the chair or a small group conduct much of the governing body's business on their own, while the rest are kept in the dark. There are just a few matters, however, which are properly delegated to a small group for a good reason.
These are decisions which might at a later stage come to governors in an appeal, and in these cases - which nearly always involve pupil or staff discipline - it is vital that there should be some governors who have not been in any way involved before. This is so that they can be called to serve on an appeal panel in the knowledge that they bring an unprejudiced view to the case and can act fairly.
I suggest that you are a fairly new governor, and were possibly not there when the governors set up a small group to deal with pupil disciplinary cases as they arose. I hope they did set up such a group, since it is certainly one power which may not in any circumstances be delegated to an individual, such as the chair alone. I hope it also included a parent governor. The members of such a group should observe total confidentiality, but I realise that in a small community people get knowledge of happenings from all sorts of sources, and the gossip and speculation you heard probably did not come from the governor at all.
If it happens again you can say that only a small panel of governors deal with disciplinary cases so that there can always be others who can give a fair hearing if there is an appeal. I know one feels awkward - living as I do near enough to our school to hear the lesson changing bell when the house is quiet! - being told things one did not know by outsiders or even button-holed by aggrieved parents, but most people can see the point when it is explained.
I would urge all governing bodies to ensure that new members as they join the governing body are informed about its procedures and policies. The composition and roles of any existing committees or working parties are vital information, and especially the delicacies of disciplinary processes. This enquiry shows how much trouble can be caused if they are not understood.
Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200.