1st November 2002 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

I am head of a large urban primary school and am one of those you seem to encounter often who can't see why we have governors at all. After 25 years'

experience I resent the idea that untrained people brought together almost at random should have a say in professional matters. I think I do a good job - but running a school these days is no joyride. Children have never been worse behaved and we get no support from parents.

A recent, critical inspection said our governing body is not effective and should play its part in raising standards. Is that my responsibility? Is it my job to train governors as well as everything else? If so I should welcome your advice. Is there any kind of governor training manual for heads?

It is not your job to train them, but it is your job to ensure that they perform their legal roles. If you believe they are incapable of contributing I'm afraid it is likely to be your fault. Sorry to be harsh but the best governors might not be much use faced with your lack of respect for them. When that respect is there I have seen many "ordinary" governing bodies make a brilliant contribution. I put ordinary in quotes because I do not accept that anybody who gives their time to help a school is ordinary.

First, of course the local education authority is obliged to provide training. I know what your LEA offers is high quality. I also know that it provides in-house team-building sessions on request. Ideally these include the head, because such training is pretty useless unless working together is part of the head's culture. Which means you have to want to change.

You say governors shouldn't have a say in "professional matters", but they don't. They don't manage and develop the staff, decide teaching methods, or maintain discipline. They do, however, appoint senior management, decide how the budget is distributed among broad objectives, develop policies to support learning and provide its social and moral framework.

They also look after the interests of parents and community and ensure all participants in the life of the school are treated fairly and with respect. This year's education Act says "the conduct of the school is under the general direction of the governing body" and it is also held responsible for raising standards.

Can you make all that real? I can't tell you how in a few lines, but the keys are honesty and trust; good teamwork; involvement of governors in school life; and good communication about education issues. Two of my books will help you: Heads in Partnership: working with your governors for a successful school and School Governors: a practical guide.(Pearson Education at 0207 447 2232). Remember schools are not unique in being accountable to public bodies - think of MPs, non-executive directors, trustees, magistrates...

Please keep requests for private replies to a minimum. Send your questions to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1bx, fax 020 778232023205 or see _expert

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