6th December 2002 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

PREVIOUSLY, all the governors at our school have been able to get involved and those who made more effort were aware of everything that happened and were consulted in good time.

Our new chair has turned out to be a bad influence in this respect. He and the head meet frequently and spend an hour or so before each meeting going over the agenda and deciding what outcome they want on each item (at least that's how it seems). They even, I suspect, decide how to handle "awkward" colleagues.

I know the head rings the chair for decisions and they don't come to us at all between meetings. The chair also answers all letters and we have no idea what he says. What do we do?

I take it you have re-elected this person this term. Make sure you are organised next time and have another nomination ready for the autumn meeting - you cannot propose an alternative on the night if there is already at least one candidate.

There is a procedure for getting rid of a chair, but it is hedged around with safeguards against hasty, unjust or inadequately prepared action and I think you could only justify it if other strategies had failed.

You will have to be tough and persistent. First, contribute to halting the rubber-stamping process at meetings. Learn to say: "Please could we all discuss that?" and "I suggest we go round the table and make sure everybody is happy before we say yes."

Ask if there have been previous discussions outside the meeting on any important issue that comes up, and to see a note of them. Establish that any meetings outside governors' meetings result in an informal note which you all get.

Suggest procedures which could be applied to any foreseeable urgent needs between meetings. For example, when agreement to an admission number is imminent, but not all facts are to hand, give the chair discretion between agreed limits based on what you know already.

Ask the head to include in his report information on any matters on which decisions may be necessary before you meet again so you can change dates or set up a committee meeting. This is a nice way to make clear your objections to your corporate role being hijacked.

Institute short meetings of chair and committee chairs with the head between full meetings to keep in touch. An extreme option is for a few of you to turn up early and ask to join in pre-meeting discussions.

Ask for a list of all correspondence with date and action taken to be circulated at each meeting and the whole file to be on the table.

You could come straight out with it and say this whole pattern of behaviour is unacceptable. Otherwise, agree among yourselves that one governor prepares and introduces each item, consulting head or staff as appropriate in advance.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 32023205, or see

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