20th February 2004 at 00:00
Why are you so against governors drawing up codes of conduct? I know that some years ago when the Government was trying to establish a formula which would ensure efficient transaction of business, based on self-discipline and respect for rules, you were very sceptical about it . You recently replied in the same vein to a question about a code of conduct. Surely there is nothing wrong with being explicit about mutual expectations, as many governing bodies suffer self-indulgent, hobby-horse-riding members who slow down the work and often kill enthusiasm dead.

"Being explicit about mutual expectations" is something I have devoted a lot of space to over the years, and if that was what you were talking about in the rest of your letter I would endorse it wholeheartedly. I think clear expectations about work-sharing, tolerance of other points of view, honourable exclusion of private agendas, loyalty and discretion, are vital to an effective governing body - indeed any group voluntarily submerging personal desires for a common purpose. But as soon as you try to translate shared expectations into codes of conduct something seems to go wrong.

The long and fruitless debate the governor community had many years ago illustrated how soon you get into witch-hunting when, with your own particular betes noires in mind, you rule that nobody shall speak for more than four minutes or ride personal hobby-horses. I also found that when the Government was encouraging us to draw up codes an alarming number of schools were making rules that the law couldn't support - such as all governors' business being confidential, or the head having the last word on any matter in dispute.

Writing rules is also a recipe for the strong to subdue dissent, or even to persecute non-conformist members. It is to me open to the same objections as having provision for removing governors from office, which I've always been uneasy about. Remember, there are quite a lot of weapons against non-conformity built into the legal framework now (done in the name of "de-regulation") Being explicit about expectations is a different matter altogether. A good chair or a few tactful and experienced people can do it and scarcely be noticed, and it will be a quest for the highest common denominator of principles and positive qualities rather than a search for negative ones.

Ten commandments may have their place, but not in a voluntary association of people with a common purpose. Of course, there are some with private agendas, but the best way to deal with that is to keep the focus on the one common agenda and its requirements.

TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters.

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