30th May 2003 at 01:00
I am a co-opted governor - now I believe called a community governor. I do not mean to be critical but the other co-optees have been valued ex-parents no longer eligible for election, ex-local education authority governors whose party lost control of the council, or experts of various kinds, all very good I must add.

I have served a long time but always been a bit uncertain of my "community" role, and now I need clarification.

The school is bursting at the seams and the LEA is planning to build new accommodation on adjoining land. This will definitely be detrimental to the amenities of the whole community which is not blessed with much open space.

This land was originally designated for a day centre for the elderly to replace unsuitable old accommodation, and public open space.

Children and young people, dog-walkers, anybody after a bit of fresh air will suffer, not to mention the old people.

This does not seem to worry my fellow community governors, who think the school's desperate shortage of accommodation is overriding. Should I be supporting the objectors? Do I really represent the community, whatever that may mean?

I suspect that most schools are ready in suitable cases to co-opt ex-parents with a proven record of commitment to the school, ex-LEA nominees whose party is no longer in power, and people with expertise which the school would welcome access to. There is nothing wrong with any of this.

I have always thought of co-opted governors as representing the wider community and my LEA indeed has always used the term, which the law has now adopted.

I would expect them not only to bring experience gained outside education, but also to show knowledge of and consideration for the school's neighbours.

In particular, they can ensure that the governing body does not forget the impact the school has on the community and its scope for avoiding annoyance to neighbours, involving local people in its big events, and supporting local causes. There will also be times when community governors can draw the school's attention to conflicts of interest, as now in your school.

Having said that, no member of the governing body is a delegate with an obligation to vote for a sectional interest, not even elected teachers and parents.

All governors bring a particular experience to the common task, all must listen to the views of those they represent and make them known if they are strong and widely held, but in the end the guiding light is the well-being of their school as each governor sees it.

I do not think it is any different for you, though your constituency is more amorphous. It is right for you to consider the effect of the school's plans on other interests and to report the expressed views of other groups in the community, but in the end you consider the school's needs and the best way of meeting them. Those groups will, of course, have a chance for formal objection to the plan.

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

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