Q Can we use our training money to buy publications and to join the local governing bodies' association?
A The school effectiveness grant - as it is now called - is available for any form of governor development activity, not just training in the narrow sense. I would say both the uses you mention are quite legitimate.
Q I am a business governor and enjoy being involved in our local comprehensive. Subject matters, with one or two exceptions, are fairly easy to grasp, but as organisations, schools are very different from business. How can I learn?
A Thirty minutes spent listening in the staffroom or general office from 8.30 to 9am is a good learning experience. Ask too if you can sit in on the occasional meeting - management team, faculty heads, year heads - making it clear you only want to get a feel for the organisation. The Advisory Centre for Education has published a book I've written for outsiders with a role in schools. It is called How Schools Work and costs Pounds 5, plus p p, from ACE, 1B Aberdeen Studios, 22-26 Highbury Grove, London N5 2EA.
Q How can we ensure better compliance by our parent governors, in particular with confidentiality rules? Some parents have caused a lot of trouble following a discussion on a plan to rearrange some of the age-groupings. They have talked at home about children being moved from their friends and having different teachers, even identifying the teachers involved. This has been spread around and been exaggerated, with the result that there is much rumour and anxiety.
A There is no evidence that parent governors are less able to keep secrets than others: sometimes their opportunities and temptations are greater, but much more commonly they are unaware of the boundaries between "confidential" and "needs to be reported with care and discretion".
The implication is that this was not classified as confidential. Therefore some governors, in innocence, felt free to talk about it. Governing bodies should be more explicit about the status of what they discuss. I do not think members should be under heavy pressure to keep silent about everything - this would not be in the spirit of the law - or that formal classification as confidential should be used too freely. Often schools are unduly anxious to keep under wraps any changes they are planning.
Nevertheless, any item which involves named individuals or individuals who can be readily identified needs extra care and, if any general policy can easily acquire name tags, the situation calls for discretion.
In this case, you could have reminded the chair how sensitive parents in general are about changing age (or ability) groups, and asked him or her to warn governors to be discreet when making any reference to the proposed changes - and especially not make the link with particular teachers or classes.
I would advise you, however, not to try to postpone talking to parents openly about this kind of change for too long. From experience I know that it is one of the trickiest changes to handle and that it is made worse by any suggestion of concealment. Governors who understand the reasons behind the changes can be invaluable in interpreting them to parents as a body.
u Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200.