8th August 2003 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

We have a local self-appointed community leader with several roles. She sits on the committee of the residents' association, leads the neighbourhood watch scheme, and the anti-litter campaign, and is a professional objector to all planning applications. She also has a loud voice, which she uses to try to discipline pupils around the neighbourhood.

She speaks disparagingly of the school in her committees, in letters to the press and in objections to our planning applications. It is a high-achieving school in a mixed area. How can we deal with her?

Many neighbourhoods have one, and even the most well-run and successful schools find that their relatively small anti-social elements are their most visible advertisement, while all the well-behaved, high-achieving students hurry along at 4pm to their mums and their homework. If it is any consolation, most people stop taking any notice after a while, and some of these self-appointed leaders often progress to killing off any enterprise they do support. I won't suggest you try to co-opt her as a governor - that would be too cruel, though ownership of problems can lead to an amazing change of perspective.

What you can do is to make sure you send her details of any special achievements, and maintain the school's profile in the local paper by informing it about academic and sporting achievements, and any good deeds or community enterprises involving its students.

This is hard work and time-consuming because there's a high wastage rate, but it does pay off in time. Maybe a governor or interested parent could help. And pull out all the stops in defending any planning development she is contesting.

You might ask the woman to honour your play, concert or presentation of records of achievement with her presence, or even to plant a tree. This may seem like rewarding a villain, but she cares for the community in her own way, so win her goodwill. Remember, too, that people like her are as passionate in advocacy as they are stern in condemnation, if only you can turn them around.

One of our governors is frequently absent, and on the slightest pretext. He always apologises, though, and maintains that this protects him from the six-month non-attendance penalty? Is this right?

Not automatically. It is your responsibility as a body to say whether or not you are prepared to accept the apology, and take this seriously because without approval the absence counts for possible removal.

For example, I would rate the closure of your nearest exit from the M25 that evening above an unexpected gift of theatre tickets. You must commit yourselves as a group to a variety of matters you consider important, such as giving priority to governor commitments in your lives. Explicit expectations transform a governing body.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, as we aim to provide helpful information for all readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Questions should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX; fax: 020 7782 3202 3205, or

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