22nd June 2001 at 01:00
We have a good head. He runs a successful school with outstanding results, good relationships and all the evidence of a naturally effective manager. We have one big complaint as governors, and that is inadequate briefing for the work we have to do.

We never get anything before a meeting except the agenda, minutes and usually a few items from the local education authority. If we get any school papers for the meeting, they are tabled and, unless it is anything complex, he just talks us through the issues.

He does so very clearly, I admit, and he is always willing to answer questions and discuss the matters fully and honestly. But I don't find it adequate and neither do the most conscientious members on our board. We can't hold it all in our heads and have nothing to refer back to if points arise later. Is this unreasonable?

AS governors, we have a right to the information we need to do our job. Heads are obliged by their conditions of service to provide it. When there are several options or the matter is complicated, most people want time to think about it before the meeting, to remind themselves of it later when related matters come up, and to refer back to.

I don't think your head is a governor-avoidance type fromwhat you say. I think he is just an extraordinarily able manager who can hold things in his mind and reproduce them accurately and in perfect order, and who enjoys this direct communication with you. Many such people don't need the support of paper and can't imagine why others do. But the decisions made in a school have widespread repercussions, and you and others may need to know the basis on which decisions have been made far into the future.

I think someone must talk to the head about this. When you are accountable for decisions, there must be evidence about why you took the decision you did. Perhaps there is a senior person on the staff who could take on this job in consultation with the head.

You need the papers before the meeting, too. Tabling papers may occasionally be necessary, but generally it's just a bad habit people get into, and it puts governors on a very unequal footing. Some read faster than others, some don't have English as their first language, some aren't familiar with the issues. You can never get perfect equality but you can at least give people whatever time they need to read things twice. Don't forget to tell your head how much you enjoy and admire his expositions and still want them, though.

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