26th May 2000 at 01:00
I AM making myself unpopular with the head and some colleagues. For 30 years I have kept the books for a small company and surely my expertise ought to be a great asset, not a source of bad feeling. I am on the finance committee and I ought to chair it, but I have been bypassed. I spend hours going over the budget documents and find discrepancies, money owed and not chased up, examples of poor estimating, such as for repairs or fuel bills where over-estimating leaves less money to spend on the children. Neither the head nor the finance officer appreciates my comments and the chairman has told me to lay off. Surely we are accountable for school finances and shouldn't let errors go unnoticed?

You mean well but you may misunderstand the role of governors, at least in the area where your experience makes you sensitive. Many governors exhaust themselves trying to check up on the work people in the school are paid to do. I say "trying" because most of us have jobs and homes to run, and could not hope to match the vigilance day-by-day of people working full-time on accounts, teaching ractions or trying to administer fair discipline policies.

This is not the level at which we should intervene, and those of us who happen to be accountants or lawyers, carpenters or cooks, have to bite our tongues to avoid getting drawn into operational-level arguments.

Now and then, any personal expertise we may have will be gold dust, but mostly we operate corporately, and need to grasp the meaning of the word "strategic" as it applies to our guidance, intervention and accountability. We don't check the lifebelts, so to speak, we just make sure there is a system for checking them effectively, and that we have ways of monitoring the systems. The same principles apply to the budget. We are, of course, expected to be watchful for any impropriety in the handling of accounts, but otherwise our job is to ensure that funds are broadly allocated in the best way to support children's learning, that these broad allocations are respected - with reasonable flexibility - by the staff, and that the presentation of financial matters is understandable, honest and transparent.

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