2nd September 2005 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

Our head has suggested a working party to plan a change to school meals, preferably to managing them in-house. I am only on it as a parent governor; a mother with no professional experience but very concerned. My worry is that a colleague, a co-opted governor, has asked to be involved, and I know he owns a chain of pubs serving meals. I wonder whether he has an axe to grind, and should he be involved?

Your concern could be well-founded. There is, as you clearly know, a rule which says that any governor who may have an interest greater than normal in a matter under discussion, sufficient to put his or her motives in doubt, should declare it and not take part. You must raise the question and seek an assurance from this colleague that his family interest in catering will not lead to his putting that company forward for a school contract. If you don't get a satisfactory response don't include him. It is a big decision for a school to manage a meals service itself. Any guidance based on experience can prevent costly mistakes. But you must clear up the question of personal interest first and have it on record.

For the rest, it's a good idea to have a working party to talk through the issues, get costings and float some ideas in good time for the changeover.

I would emphasise two points. One is not to make the new meals too fancy at first. Well-cooked family favourites to start with, then increasing excursions into bolder territory. The second is to stop standards of hygiene, kitchen practice, variety and attractiveness from sliding over time. You need one person with suitable qualifications and experience to be directly accountable to you, to ensure the guidelines on menus and hygiene are respected. This need only be a part-time job.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see where answers to submitted questions will appear. Joan Sallis answers more governors' questions on page 35

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