8th July 2005 at 01:00
JOAN SALLIS Answers your questions

I am a recently co-opted governor of a big comprehensive and feel very unsure of my role, what I can contribute, whom I represent and what interests I should take account of. My background is in social work and I know certain sections of the community very well. I am quite experienced in legal issues such as appeals and social problems. But I was disappointed when the head implied that I should not opt for the curriculum committee and that appeals against exclusion were better handled by governors with direct experience of the school. If I try to bring my experience of the local community to bear on school affairs and point out how some people might react to school plans, I seem to get sidelined. How do think I can best serve the school?

I know community governors - now known as co-opted governors- are different because they do not relate to a particular interest group in the way parents, teachers, church and local education authority representatives do.

But they are a vital element. They bring valuable outside experience and a detachment that other members often have to work hard at.

I would have thought your background in social work would be very valuable, and that there is no reason why you should not be as welcome a member of a curriculum committee or exclusion panel as any other governor. You must stand your ground, get to know the school, make friends and talk to your chair about your feelings.

While the governing body represents those who work in, use, and are affected by schools, members are independent contributors to its policies with a variety of experience, and all have equal status. But community governors make a special contribution. They see the consequences of policy and practice for a range of groups, neighbours, employers, the elderly, the disadvantaged - consequences that those closer to the action might overlook.

I'm sure you will feel more at home with your colleagues as time goes by, especially if you use every chance to see the school in action and enjoy its special events.

This will help you to make friends among parents and teachers who may have a tendency to think of co-opted governors as less committed to school life and more concerned with offering expertise. Showing an interest and a willingness to spend time in the school will win you friends.

But do not accept any implication that you are somehow of less value than insiders. Direct personal experience is valuable, but so is a degree of detachment.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BXFax 0171 782 32023205, or see governorsask_ the_expert where answers to submitted questions will appear

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