25th August 2000 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers governors' questions

Our school is in special measures. Not all governors are equally conscientious, but we try hard as a group to bring about improvement. We were surprised when two total strangers were introduced as extra governors appointed by the local education authority to help us. Do we have to accept this? They do not even come from this area. Surely it's better that people who understand the school and know the neighbourhood tackle the problems?

Under the latest legislation, the authority is entitled to appoint two extra governors to a school in this situation. They usually try to call on people with experience and judgment, and it is not necessarily a disadvantage to be unfamiliar with the school, because they may bring a fresh perspective. Through my work I often meet people who are appointed in this way and I can only say any governing body would be very lucky to have them. I hope this will be so in your case.

I accept from what you say that your governors are working very well to improve matters, but in the authority's eyes they have to be regarded as a group who have not been able to put things right. Do not misunderstand this: nobody knows better than I do that governors are often powerless to do anything significant until the shock of being classed to be failing foces it upon the school. I say this because for every letter I get from heads complaining about governors exercising too much power, I get 10 from governors complaining that they are prevented from fulfilling their role - even when they know there are things that need changing.

Our comprehensive school has many entrances and we often get thefts of valuable equipment - computers, musical instruments - which are too expensive to insure. Who should pay for replacements? In my view teachers don't take enough care.

That is a wild generalisation. There may be teachers who haven't yet fully taken on board the fact that these things now come out of the school's own money, but I am sure there are many more who look after the school's property as well as they can.

As governors you can do three things. First, ensure that there are enough lockable cupboards available for portable items and that security is improved on outside access where possible.

Second, see that there are clear guidelines issued to all staff on care of valuable items. Third, require every department to draw up an inventory of valuable items they are responsible for. If you want to introduce the slightest punitive element you could ask departmental heads to report any losses personally to the chair of your appropriate committee.

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