27th August 2004 at 01:00
I am head of a specialist school who has opted not to become a governor, which I understand to be my choice. One of my governors has drawn attention to a statement in one of your books that in such cases a head's interventions should be "confined to matters of fact and professional practice". I feel this reduces my status and makes my position almost untenable. I made my decision because I wanted more freedom, not less, to run the school in what I judged to be its best interests.

The governor was prompted to refer to your comment because we are having a lively debate about whether to exercise our right to select 10 per cent of our intake, which my governing body is against.

Context is everything in this case. Several new and prospective heads have asked my guidance about whether or not to be governors, and of course nothing I say affects the power all heads have to manage and develop their staff on a day-by-day basis, to use the resources of space, time, money and personnel available to them to best advantage, to communicate routinely on behalf of the school with other agencies and, of course, to provide in a professional context the vision that illuminates this role. But the context here is the governing body and its legal powers, which is the subject of your question and of my previous answer to it.

The governing body allocates, in broad terms, the school's budget, appoints its senior staff, sets targets, monitors its performance and formulates a framework of policy within which it works, as well as acting as an appeal body in certain circumstances. Recommending a change in the character of the school is also manifestly within its remit.

In the comment you quote, I was trying to warn headteachers that if they exercised their option not to be governors, they would forfeit some of their power within the governing body. I am concerned that this decision should be made knowingly, but also, frankly, that governors ensure that the head who does decide to do this plays by the rules.

Some governors feel uneasy with a head who opts out, and wonder what lies behind the decision. Perhaps this applies to your governing body now that the right to select is being discussed.

If you were deciding whether to introduce a new subject into the curriculum or drop one, to change the tutorial system, say, or the form of reports to parents, your advice to the governing body would be crucial whether or not you were a governor, but introducing a form of selection has a strong moral and political content as well as important implications for the neighbourhood, and your governors may feel they are being subjected to undue influence.

As far as I know, the decision not to become a governor can be reversed, and, under the new constitutional arrangements, a place is kept vacant within the staffing quota for a head, even if he or she opts out. If you changed your mind it would give you a vote on controversial issues. But even then, it would be wise for a head to be careful, shall we say, when advising on issues that have such a strong community significance.

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 bookshop. 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 governors ask_the_ expert where answers to the submitted questions will appear

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