Agenda

6th February 2004 at 00:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

I am chair of governors at a large secondary school. We have poor attendances at out meetings and difficulty in replacing governors who leave, and consequently have problems obtaining the new general quorum of 50 per cent. Recently I had to sanction a co-option in these circumstances of a well-qualified candidate under "chair's action", a necessary action for the benefit of the school. The head and I are very concerned.

I do sympathise, and admire your serious approach. There are areas of the country where recruitment is harder than others.

Often, however, the problems are not experienced by all the schools in an apparently homogeneous catchment area, so it is always worth looking very carefully at what other schools do to help recruitment.

Possible techniques include: always emphasising in the promotional material that it is a job for ordinary people with interest and commitment, and not experts; that decisions are made together and with plenty of support; that the whole aim is a better education for ordinary children and that the outcomes are rewarding; that the job is interesting and even addictive; that nobody has to act alone or without ample support and information; that it is full of comradeship and common purpose.

Use everyday language. Forgive me, but sometimes the job is presented as both difficult and dull in official communications.I knew a great school where the request for nominations for a new parent governor was a letter from the outgoing one in his or her own hand, uncorrected and photocopied, and emphasising the joys of the job. The head told me it was an area where typed letters were bad news! In such places the image projected by governors is all-important.

You also have to look at the visibility of the governing body in the school. Are its interestingpopular decisions broadcast?Do governors meet parents andor the parent-teacher association to talk about common concerns? Is the school welcoming and open?

The great thing about visibility as a policy is that it does not have to be a big deal. If the governors achieve something of benefit to the school's users, you publicise that. Then you go on to the next issue.

I believe requiring a 50 per cent quorum for all decisions was a bad choice: too high for minor issues, too low for major ones. Previously you would have been able to make most of your decisions on 30 per cent.

But even now I think you could use the flexibility of the new opportunities for delegation better than you do.

The governing body itself fixes the quorum for committees - minimum of three governors - and you could probably use committees more. You could also perhaps look at the greater opportunities to delegate decisions to committees and the head.

Just be careful about delegating decisions on membership (I was concerned about the co-option), about delegation itself, and about staffing matters.

Those are the main areas where delegation is restricted.

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 www.tes.co.uk governorsask_ the_ expert where answers to submitted questions will appear

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