17th October 2003 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers governors' questions

I have read your summary of the new rules and options for governing bodies (TES, September 26) and there are a few of these that strike me, as a chair of governors, as completely ridiculous. One is that if we liked we could reduce our total number to nine by the end of the period.

Leaving aside the fact that just five people (50 per cent rounded up) could then make all decisions even for a big school, we would have nothing to prevent a majority of those being parents or staff, we would still need committees - to which we could, if we wished, delegate almost all decisions.

Most schools have three or four committees, some more, and would want to find ableexperienced members to chair them, and have a reasonable balance of interests on them.

That is hard enough, but then they decide their own quorum, if the governing body so wishes, and it can be as few as three. And what is to stop them being all one interest group? A crazy governing body could augment them with experts, extra staff, students, business people, and give them votes so that the pure governor interest would be diluted still further.

There seems to be scope for the whole thing to spin out of control, and perhaps there are some heads who would gladly step in and reduce what we always thought of as an agency of the community to a charade.

I agree with you totally about the dangers. However, I do not believe governing bodies are that crazy and will work out for themselves how to remain broadly representative, valuing balance, debate and consensus, watchful for any kinds of dangerous power drift.

My main anxiety is about the time-scale of the process because decisions made now on delegation and committee structures and rules could be dangerous if we do not straight away relate them to the size we want to be and the balance we aim at. It would be easy to make hasty decisions on delegation and related matters which would have a disproportionate impact on smaller governing bodies. But there are small governing bodies now in small schools, and even they already suffer from the difficulties of enough people to do all the jobs, keeping committees balanced and so on.

I would not be surprised if some of these even go a bit bigger. But I am grateful for your warning to bigger schools which might be tempted to downsize.

We can review arrangements which do not turn out well. Then there are rules we can make to promote democratic habits without infringing the regulations. And a governing body of more than 12 could, if every member took two committees, manage four committees of at least six with all four main groups represented.

They could establish a quorum of four, there would be no need for excessive delegation or giving associate members votes unless the whole governing body wished, and even then they could only vote when governors were in a majority.

I would welcome associate student governors at least. We have waited a long time for even that and I wish we could go below 18 years of age with full governor status.

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 governorsask_ the_expert

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