3rd November 1995 at 00:00
Joan sallis answers your questions

I have only been governor for a year, and I am now becoming concerned about the powers of the finance committee. It has eight members, which would guarantee a majority even if its decisions came to the governing body, but in fact although committee minutes are circulated there is rarely discussion at full meetings. The committee also determines its own term of reference. My union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warns in its guide that committees should not operate as inner cabinets, this being "against the spirit of the Education Acts and the clear intentions of the law makers." Can you please clarify?

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers whose guide for governors is exceptionally good is wise to warn governors against letting any of their corporate responsibility slide away. Everything in the legislation and regulations supports that corporate responsibility. Indeed the regulations (Statutory Instrument 1503 of 1989 is the main document) ensure that when governors delegate they do so consciously and precisely, and with a specially large quorum of governors present. What is more, there are more functions which cannot be delegated than those which can.

Finance is, however, a function which can be delegated, and it is clearly desirable that the school's budget should be managed without too much re-running of the same discussions. Having said that it is vital that the whole governing body understands and feels ownership of the decisions made, and not that budget management is a special process only understood by experts. If this happens money will take on a life of its own and be the master not the servant of children's learning.

The vital things to avoid this are clear delegation and good communication. The whole governing body should be very clear about what functions it is delegating to the committee and with what restrictions. The governing body not the committee should set terms of reference: otherwise there will not be this clarity, and it is a vital point since the whole governing body remains legally responsible for every decision, whatever the degree of delegation.

I can strongly commend a practice we have on our governing body, which is to make all committees open. Their core membership is determined by the governing body, but all governors know the meeting dates and are welcome to attend. It is more common than not for committees to have extra members attending. (The only exceptions are those which could give rise to an appeal: in these it is important that membership is restricted so that there are always governors who come to the matter without prior knowledge). This openness gives members a feeling of trust and empowerment, and I can truly say that whatever problems we may have, lack of trust in colleagues is not one of them.

Questions for Agenda should be addressed to Joan Sallis, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200.


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