22nd August 2003 at 01:00
As a new parent governor I have got into trouble for telling the PTA chair what the governors decided on a matter parents had been concerned about. It was in no way confidential.

She happened to phone me the next day and I saw no harm in telling her, but she innocently told the head how pleased she was. He blew his top and said I shouldn't have said anything until the governors had approved the minutes. But that won't be until the middle of next term. Where's the harm?

I agree that it's ridiculous to keep non-confidential matters under wraps until the next full meeting, especially as the law allows anyone to see the minutes once the chair has approved them. It was never intended that our business should be confidential unless the governing body classified it as such. But, out of courtesy at least, governors should keep their counsel on any important decision until the chair has seen and approved the minutes. This is good practice as it removes the secrecy, and safeguards governors who might have misunderstood or misremembered a decision.

We have had budget problems and have considered many ways of saving money.

We did not submit a deficit budget, but what we have proposed will work only on all the best assumptions about supply costs, repairs, ability to increase lettings and so on.

We have talked about all sorts of "what-if?" situations and how we could economise if they happened. These include cutting down on part-time non-teaching staff. As staff governor, I thought it right to report these discussions to those I represent, which has caused some alarm. The head and chair are angry and said it was mischief-making. Where do I stand?

Forgiven, I hope, as I'm sure you did not act mischievously, and the whole governing body - chair and head in particular - were remiss in failing to classify any alarming speculation about people's livelihood as confidential.

As I said in the previous answer, it is a bit unreasonable to expect individuals to decide on what is and what isn't suitable to report, given that the minutes become public documents once the chair has approved them.

But in your role you will have to be extra careful about passing on any information that might make your constituents fear for their jobs when it's only a "what-if?" discussion.

A group of us were talking about the new regulations and what changes we may want to make. We decided that smaller governing bodies are more efficient and, when we reconstitute ours, we would be unlikely to go above 12 members. We know we will need at least four parents and two local authority reps, but we don't want more than two elected staff, because we'd like to go to four co-options (which already makes 12). There are a couple of local organisations which would expect to be represented and we also need someone from business, but we really do want to have our caretaker. If we co-opt him now before we reorganise, could he stay on , or could we keep a co-opted place for him later?

I'm glad you are thinking about reconstitution even though it doesn't have to be complete until 2006! I'm sure you've heard me say how concerned I would be about a medium to large school going for too small a governing body, simply because the other new regulations (2003 No 1377), which come into force as soon as schools re-open, allow so much more delegation to committees and individuals.

But I'm afraid you can't co-opt your caretaker either now or when you have reconstituted. Co-option of school staff was stopped when staff got their own elected representative under the 1999 Act and the 2003 regulations go further: no staff can serve in any capacity other than elected staff governors. They can't be parent governors in their own school, local authority representatives or co-optees. So you could have three or four elected staff even in a governing body of 12, and at least one of these has to be a support staff member. So your caretaker could stand for election.

Whoever wins will have far more status, through speaking for others, if he or she is elected, and the head will have to accept this. If you went above 12 you could have a better balance and ample provision for staff and co-optees, but remember you choose co-optees to benefit the school, not because they "expect it".

Send questions to Joan Sallis at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX; fax: 020 7782 32023205, or see ask_the_expert

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