24th October 2003 at 01:00
I was pleased to have information in The TES a couple of weeks ago about the new rules. We had had no information except from our head - which was sketchy - but he arranged for the subject to be on our agenda for our first meeting of the year. At that meeting, held yesterday, he referred to the "strong steer" which he said the Government had given on much more delegation to heads, smaller more business-like governing bodies, small but more expert committees - a very selective account, I thought. Ours is the first secondary school in the county to have a full meeting so I don't know yet what other schools are doing. Anyway, the head wants a reorganisation working party with one governor from each interest group plus all senior staff to meet shortly and has asked for our nominations in writing. His hope was, he said, that we would end up with a governing body of no more than 10. Also, that committees would consist of three members and that appropriate members of staff - mostly heads of department plus the bursar and site manager and one or two other key specialists - would be made associate voting members of appropriate committees (I worked out this would be roughly 12!) plus the odd member from business. He is - need I say - no supporter of governing bodies. By the way, I am the new chair. Help!

I run a serious risk that people will think I made this one up! You certainly do have (i) a head who wants to extract from this package the maximum disempowerment of governors and (ii) my sympathy. I am sorry you were not able to insist that the working party was elected at a governors'

meeting - preferably the next! - and that it was made clear that only governors had a vote, if that proved necessary. The method suggested is not calculated to unite governors or encourage democratic choice of representatives, and if it is to be regarded as a committee of governors, with power, that is not even a legal way to form it. However, you must keep your cool. Nobody can make you halve your governing body, delegate all decisions to the head, accept committees of three governors and double that number of staff and others as associates.

The only really important changes you cannot avoid are delegating the selection of staff below deputy to the head, and accepting a lower quorum than previously for the more strategic decisions which used to require two-thirds. Everything else can only happen if more than half of your governors vote for it, so don't panic. If that number think all the new proposals are the best thing that ever happened to governors then fine, but otherwise stand your ground. Remember, too, that you decide whether associate governors have a vote, and even then they cannot use it unless outnumbered by governors at the meeting in question.

Some changes will come, and perhaps those of us who have looked askance at them will be proved wrong, but we still have choice over most of them. If you have a governing bodies' association in your local education authority, do air your worries there, and seek help from your governor support service.

A further point about all this procedural change is how much time discussing it will rob from more vital issues in schools.

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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