30th April 2004 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

What qualities are important in a school governor? I think about this when we look at applications for co-option, and also as a parent when elections come up. I am in my second four-year term and realise how important it is to have colleagues whom one trusts and respects, but sometimes I can't define exactly what creates that confidence.

Good governors come in all shapes and sizes and bring varied experience to the job. Don't underrate the importance of a good mix in any group. But you are right to try to isolate the essentials. If you interview would-be co-optees, it may help to focus your questions. I will give you my list, but don't expect every candidate to have them all.

* Time - even the best candidate has to realise that it is a time-consuming job and you must be able and willing to put the hours in. Often able people fill their lives to the brim but can't resist one busy role too many.

* Commitment - I was going to say enthusiasm, but this can be an undirected quality and we want an enthusiastic commitment to children's education in all its rich senses. This can include loyalty to a particular school which has played a part in the candidate's life, but in the case of a co-option, members may rightly look instead for a broader commitment, for evidence of judgment and staying power in some other cause which will balance the passion of those sometimes too close to the action. Here it may be a risk to settle for a CV of purely academic capability without proven commitment to some community cause which gives assurance of motivation. I would also say - though it will upset some - that for me this includes commitment to education as a public service, not as a product of choice and money. I have not found that the latter approach sits easily with the real issues in a community's own schools.

* Working-together skills - the governing body has significant power only exercised through co-operative thinking and activity, and a good one is a give-and-take group which can bring some with open minds and others with strong opinions to a rational decision to which all will be loyal.

* Integrity - I talked about being loyal to decisions and that is an aspect of integrity. Many of the problems sent to me for advice arise from having a colleague who can't fully accept that the only power is the one we share, and who tries to pursue a private cause or sabotage a group decision. Other aspects of integrity are being open about any circumstance which may affect your impartiality; accepting the validity of other opinions; and expressing honest doubts at the right time. This quality can't easily be tested, but you do learn to sense it.

You notice I haven't mentioned treasure hunting for specialisms - law, business, money - or qualifications and worldly success. Some governors I recall almost with reverence had little formal education, but first-class honours in hard work, commitment, co-operation and integrity. Most other skills can be learnt or imported.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see

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