31st August 2001 at 01:00
Becoming a governor in a new area has been a culture shock. I am used to free expression of opinion, here everything is sewn up by one party. The chair, a councillor, has been chair many years. His supporters chair key committees, and nobody dares challenge them. The chair and head fix the agenda, and everything is rushed through after long pre-meetings. I have no idea if the head approves: I suspect it makes for an easy life. We hardly ever vote - everyone seems mesmerised.

Remember your local-authority members are a minority, though their influence may extend beyond their numbers. In theory the rest can change things, but, from my own experience on bodies like yours, I know how hard it is.

The head is a key player. One day, when the party line doesn't suit him, he will find he's lost his authority. Someone needs to tell him how things are done elsewhere and explain how his stance could damage him.

Remember we re-elect the chair each year and, if contested, it must be a secret ballot. If no one else stands no one else can be elected. Committees must also be reviewed annually and the members again elected. Your next meeting sews things up for a year. That is also the time to review procedures - use it.

The chair has no power in law, except in narrowly-defined emergency cases, where actions can be delegated to himher. Find out what these are and make sure what the chair does in your name is legal - he could be putting the school at great risk.

The rest of you should set out what you want: a parent-governor's involvement in every important process; an active role for teacher-governors; a rota for seeing the school at work and helping with teacher appointments. Remember delegation must be with your conscious consent.

At meetings challenge things that seem to have been agreed in advance. Get used to saying: "Could we all discuss that?" and "Could we go round the table and make sure everyone is happy before we agree?" Ask if there is a record of any pre-meetings. Watch out particularly for prior consultations on exclusions or teacher appointments, which could backfire if settled improperly. Get your head to flag up future issues in his report to you - then you can plan your involvement. It's hard work, but without it you are all puppets.

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