31st October 2003 at 00:00
For 18 months we have had a new local authority governor, a councillor of the majority party, assigned to us. I was told that she had a low opinion of local schools and no time for comprehensive education. She says very little at meetings except to comment on the poor behaviour of our students on the local buses and the "mediocre" exam results. In fact our percentage of five or more A* to C GCSEs is the highest in town and above the national average.

We are proud that all students leave with some qualification and that our few very able children are nurtured and achieve their potential. We do not have many high-fliers - ours is a working-class area and some of the brightest students are creamed off by an independent church school with scholarships. We feel very let down by this new member, but above all are shocked by her poor attendance. She has so far attended only two full meetings and two of the finance committee, no extra meetings of governors or the student welfare committee which she also belongs to, no exclusion panels and hardly any school events.

I sympathise. I wish all LEAs had adopted the increasingly common practice of forgetting politics and appointing local people with proven interest and commitment. Schools are too busy to carry passengers these days, and those who are less than fully committed to the system and the well-being of the chosen school demoralise others.

However, I hope and believe that you are not saying that genuine criticism of the school from a basically supportive member is disallowed. We should all be self-critical, and if our school has weaknesses we should discuss them constructively - that is not incompatible with loyalty. But that means conscientious attendance and positive contributions, not a mixture of criticism and neglect bordering on sabotage.

Six months' non-attendance without approval can automatically disqualify the member. Watch this - not just when it has happened, but when it seems to be becoming likely, so that a stern warning can be penned by your chair.

This rule also means that we do not automatically accept apologies (much less absence without apology). We have to be satisfied that the reason is good enough. A sudden offer of two theatre tickets is not the same as a road closure or infectious illness.

There is a (new) provision for suspending a misbehaving member for up to 12 months, though I have doubts about the wisdom or usefulness of this. A firm letter from your chair when a member seems to be heading for disqualification or in cases of seriously poor attendance is certainly in order.

I believe that all governing bodies should avoid being too nice in situations where a hostile or neglectful governor is demoralising others.

The solution is to be much more explicit about our expectations of each other as volunteers in an essential public duty.

No governor should be in any doubt when they join that although colleagues don't expect uncritical approaches to real problems, they do expect regular attendance, consistent sharing of work, acceptance of training, and loyalty. Failure to do this debases our task and makes it much harder to respond to situations like yours.

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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