18th August 1995 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

I know that a lot of correspondence comes in to the school addressed to our chairperson, to the governing body or even to the head "for the attention of the governing body". Only a small proportion of the total, I'm sure, is shown or reported to us all.

Perhaps I'm unduly suspicious, but the odd remark or accidental sight of a paper suggests that there is heavy censorship, especially on matters to do with our training, publications sent to the school and intended for us, or policy matters affecting all governors on which we might have a view. We never have "correspondence" on the agenda. How can we deal with this? Have we a legal right to see everything addressed to governors?

This is a complex question. Certainly you have a right to ask to see everything which comes in for the attention of governors if that is what all of you really want, and the chair has no right to exercise selection on your behalf unless you have asked for that. I am not sure that it is very helpful to talk about rights, however, since I suspect that if you were sent every bit of paper that comes in, some governors at least would soon be complaining. What I think lies behind your question is that you feel that in some sense you are being manipulated, perhaps by a head and chair who are close and whom you don't trust to involve you in anything serious or encourage you to become better informed.

The most important thing therefore is to establish a system which deals with your mistrust, and that is a bigger question than the distribution of paper. It requires you to have a discussion, ideally at the autumn meeting, about how you are going to ensure that the governing body is effective, including the relationship it wants with the chair and the information it would like from the head. Ideally you should do this before electing your chair, and if a number of you feel that that is the problem and want a change, you know you have to be ready and you have to be brave. I don't want to disappoint you, but I found that having "correspondence" as an agenda item can be as effective a method of governor control as any other! It can be interminable and pretty empty. Better to ask for a brief oral report on any important correspondence - and you will have to accept that your chair does the selecting - plus a circulated list of all correspondence, with action taken, and then you can ask for anything that looks important.

Better still, ask in addition for all correspondence addressed to the governors or the chair, with replies,to be put in a box in a place where any governor can look at it.

Best of all, have a rota governor (for example, duty governor of the month) or volunteer governor to look through the box on your behalf, and pick out anything important. It would have to be purged pretty often, so if you do make this request you must be prepared as a group to find time to check before contents become out of date.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax 0171-782 3200

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