15th November 1996 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions. Q. Like many others we have just been trying to fill some vacancies for co-opted governors but have postponed decisions on two until we can identify a few more promising names.

In this area it is no problem to find people with professional qualifications or experience which would be useful to the school but we have had many disappointments over the years. These people agree to serve and start with enthusiasm but in the end they either haven't enough time to spare or aren't all that committed.

Whatever the reason they are not 100 per cent attenders and rarely get involved with the children. Any advice? Are we being too demanding?

A. I have never accepted the view that people who contribute in other ways (for instance, by sharing expertise or providing useful contacts) can be excused regular attendance and involvement with the school.

This is just the formula for allowing personal management, money or law to take on lives of their own and become the master of children's learning not its servant.

A good governor is first and foremost one who understands the purpose of our decisions from first hand experience or is prepared to learn. But of course we must show appreciation of the expertise we get as well.

The ideal chemistry in a governing body is a solid core (we can argue about how large) of people who are or have been associated with the school personally and have proven commitment to it, and an element of fresh and challenging thinking from further afield: we need this to stimulate us and prevent us from getting complacent.

Co-options give us the chance to improve the balance and I have no problem with the governing body which chooses to use one or two co-option places for a member of the non-teaching staff (elected by their colleagues), another teacher or a former parent. I have however known schools who have gone too far down this road and ended up with a governing body which has little challenge, or where too many people owe their livelihood to the school and may be precluded from playing a full and independent part.

But how does one avoid the situation you describe? I think it's a good idea, when you have some promising names (and remember what I always say about thinking recruitment all the time, not just when there is a vacancy), to interview possible co-optees informally and to make it clear what your expectations of each other are in terms of time commitment and becoming familiar with the school at work, so that they are realistic about what is required and have a chance to say what they can manage.

Once they are appointed ensure that you don't change long-planned meeting dates, that you give as much warning as possible of school events, and that all governors are reminded regularly of any systems for visiting and accepting small responsibilities. Make your expectations clear and don't be too soft on slackers.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200.e-mail: letters@tes1.demon.

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