6th February 1998 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions.

Q: If there is no will on the part of the head to share power, where do we start? Ten years after the reform of governing bodies we have just been told by OFSTED that we play no significant part in the strategic direction of the school, that we do not contribute to its policies or monitor its performance. I am an experienced chair (local councillor and LEA nominated). Relationships all round are pleasant. We are kept informed about the activities of the children and welcomed to their events. Important documents such as the prospectus and annual report to parents are submitted for endorsement. Governors ask leading questions. They are told firmly but pleasantly that they are professional matters but that we shall have a full report, and the report is duly presented. Parents are resentful because they have been conned into a job which is just a charade.

A: I value your honest letter. I think quite a large number of schools are just pretending. I am equally sure that many governing bodies are beginning to understand and promote their strategic role, and I don't expect such big changes in attitudes and the distribution of power to take place overnight.

But like you I am sometimes disheartened when I realise that there are still many heads who behave as though the changes of the Eighties had never taken place. Other parts of your letter lead me to think that yours is also one of the few areas where the LEA don't exactly "think governor" either. In these areas power has not in the same full sense been delegated to schools, and officers tend to protect the head against "pushy" governors, where others elsewhere might actually step in in a case like yours, as I believe they should, to see the law is implemented.

If I am wrong about this, do try to bring such intervention about through the contacts you must have as a councillor. Ask the person responsible for governor training to give you an in-house session on roles and responsibilities - fully justified by your OFSTED report. That report indeed cannot be ignored, and you must insist that its findings in so far as they relate to governors are followed up strongly.

You need clear distribution of tasks on the governing body - including an editorial team to ensure you write your own report to parents, and an understanding that head and staff will support the governors concerned in making a reality of them. You need some system of attachment of individual governors (to a class, a subject area or a period of duty) to ensure that every governor is committed to seeing the school at work on a regular basis. And you need to sit down - perhaps with help from a more active local governing body - to set out your requirements for a regular service of strategic information on school performance (across all its activity and across the full range of ability, and with breakdowns as appropriate to reveal the performance of particular groups). Your head just cannot oppose these moves in the light of the very clear OFSTED criticism.

Finally, have you personally perhaps become too associated through no fault of your own with a compliant style of involvement? If you have been chair for a long time it might be good to persuade one of the parent governors who is under "constituency" pressure to stand.

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