Agenda

5th September 2003 at 01:00
This week, for once, you have no Question and Answer. These will be back, next week and every week, in the new leadership pages, along with many other features for governors. But in this first week of the new enterprise the editor has let me use the space to add my assurances that governors'

interests will be at least as fully covered in this new feature as they were in the old governors' pages.

I began my campaign for reformed governing bodies as a new school parent.

Now I am a new school grandparent. I have spent 35 years working for proper recognition of the part governors play in school leadership. At first that meant campaigning with others for a legal structure and role for them that had substance and meaning, and which brought all stake-holders in the school's success. We achieved this in our own education authority and as a result I was asked to represent parents on the Taylor Committee (1975-77) which led to new legislation. Then came years of meeting vast numbers of governors and heads at conferences and schools, and writing guidance for governors, who have advanced a great deal since the days when their predecessors graced prize day platforms and nodded other people's decisions through. The law has now made it clear beyond argument that governing bodies are responsible for making schools better and that they hold schools to account on behalf of the wider community.

Some readers will nevertheless raise their eyebrows when I refer to governors' role in the context of school leadership, which may well seem the preserve of senior management. To see it otherwise you need to accept that schools are unique. They do not produce breakfast foods or electronic components. Their "product" is human beings, some of whom may make breakfast foods, while others enrich our lives by writing books, making music, painting pictures, acting or teaching. Most will live unremarkable useful lives, respond to beauty, experience joy, pain and love, raise families. Some will deface railway stations with spray paint and a few end up in prison. (You can always blame parents, television, society or food additives for these.) How can you claim that leadership in this life-changing (and expensive) public service is solely a professional concern?

Sometimes children are asked to draw pictures to reveal their secrets, and I would be very interested to see how adults would draw their view of leadership. Whether your model is Winston Churchill or Nelson Mandela doesn't make that much difference for this purpose. I think most might show the leader as up-the-top or out-the-front, vision-led, knowing how to plan, inspire and motivate, set targets and monitor.

But schools being what they are, my picture of leadership would be more like being at the centre of a huge circle in which various groups - all representing legitimate interests, all influential in the outcomes - act and interact, and in their different ways and at different times become crucial in leadership decisions. The groups include community, local and national government and employers and sometimes churches sometimes. But the parents and governors, are the most influential group - and, legally, agents of accountability to all the others.

In this sense leadership is not up-top or out-front. It is at the heart of this circle. Communication is its life-blood and consent its right arm.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see www.tes.co.uk governorsask_ the_expert where answers to submitted questions will appear

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