14th May 2004 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

Our head keeps talking about bringing all sorts of people on to committees of our governing body when it is reconstituted. (I don't even know what reconstitution he is talking about or when it happens.) He mentions a few staff members, teaching and non-teaching, as possibilities and also a few big-wigs from the professions and business, some in his old local education authority which is adjacent to this one. I don't really know what purpose this is supposed to serve, but my instincts tell me it is a threat to our role. Anyway, why should we have governors from another LEA miles away when we are supposed to represent local people?

Reconstitution was news towards the end of 2002 when regulations were brought into effect on the size and membership of governing bodies, their rules and procedures and various other matters, but we do not have to complete the size and membership changes until the end of 2005-6. The procedural changes, however, are already in force, and their importance to your question is that they give governing bodies much more scope for delegating decisions to committees and individuals, which some headteachers may welcome.

Some governors may welcome them too, but many worry about the danger of small groups becoming too powerful, and these will share your concern about opening the door to too many associate governors - as the individuals your question relates to are called.

An associate governor is simply someone whom the governing body themselves (not just the head) think would add something to their knowledge, efficiency or representativeness, bearing in mind that some governing bodies may use the reconstitution to become smaller (a course on which I would advise caution). You will need a majority to approve such an addition and a quorum of 50 per cent. Associate governors must be over 18, which is a pity because one of the few additions I would welcome would be a pupil from the school.

Who else might governors want to vote in? Senior staff members with appropriate roles perhaps, such as a deputy or finance officer, special educational needs co-ordinator, caretaker (though these could be elected staff governors in their own right). But one would want to be careful not to unbalance the mix by too many extra staff, bearing in mind that up to one third can be elected staff anyway. Then there is the world of business, law or finance as a source of expertise (though governing bodies may co-opt such people if they can find them), or current and likely benefactors of the school. Other possibilities might be representatives of agencies concerned with young people, the police, youth services, nurseries etc.

Associate governors don't have full powers, by the way. They may have voting status only if the governing body so wishes, and even then only when a majority of those present at the committee concerned are full governors.

They are also excluded from certain types of decision, in particular matters relating to individuals.

But remember that you decide, and you will no doubt be concerned about non-governor members acquiring too much influence, unbalancing the group or blurring accountability. On this last issue, while not being dogmatic, I should look carefully at any candidates from some distance, with limited knowledge of your community and who is not answerable to local residents.

A compilation of Joan Sallis's columns has been published in Questions School Governors Ask. Copies are available at pound;7.95 from The TES bookshop: call 0870 4448633 or see 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 ask_the_expert where answers to the submitted questions will appear

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