16th January 2004 at 00:00

Our school has been classified as having serious weaknesses so we are knee-deep in intervention of various kinds. We are coping well and my query is not really about the future of the school but about the way a couple of our governors have reacted and the possible implications for the future.

They are two councillors, representing the local education authority. We have never before experienced any know-all or in-the-know governors, just a good team, and the two governors concerned have always shared in this spirit. Now, however, they seem to be overcome with a sense of their importance, superior knowledge and inside information, and this gets up people's noses. They try to take the lead on any LEA-driven initiative, if possible keeping the rest in the dark or at the very least exhibiting nudge-and-wink behaviour. Worse, they come the elder statesman, trying to take the lead in any strategic decision, which I feel works against the unity we should display and demotivates the less active members. What do you think and how can we improve matters?

You have an admirably clear idea of how governors should work together and especially how they should respond to a crisis. I entirely agree that the behaviour you describe is demotivating and in the end counter-productive. I can confirm that although in a school with serious weaknesses the LEA acquires a lead role, the LEA members have no special status or lead role to play, and your chair and the rest of you must try gently to discourage anything of the kind and emphasise the responsibility and ownership you equally share, as always, for what needs to be done.

On the other hand, don't be too hard on your colleagues. They naturally feel some special identification with the LEA's remedial initiatives, and concern that they should work. They may also as councillors have some stronger feeling of responsibility for an LEA school which has got into difficulties than your typical governor, because the administration's local standing is involved and possibly its electoral chances when the time comes. It is hard to leave out that dimension altogether when politics is a large part of your life.

Don't misunderstand. I am not defending any kind of divisive behaviour by governors in any circumstances, only trying to put it in perspective. You should pleasantly but firmly encourage the kind of teamwork you have so rightly prized, insist on total sharing of information and responsibility, and your chair should step in to abort any moves in the other direction. It might be helpful if you had a small task-force of one councillor with one parent, one staff, one co-opted governor, each perhaps from a different committee, to keep all the initiatives on track - though here again you may have to make sure you discourage any exclusive behaviour even by a broadly-based group. People do fall into the trap easily I fear.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0207 782 3202, or see governorsask_ the_expert

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