9th September 2005 at 01:00
I have heard you say that the first meeting of the school year is critically important to an effective governing body. Could you amplify this for all those governors who go home in July feeling they could have done better but in September seem unable to do anything about it?

The solution isn't easy. It would be ideal to get together briefly before the end of a school year to record informally but honestly any problems you have had, and again informally in September to prepare for some of the decisions you have to make. Otherwise small groups will get into huddles to discuss poor relationships, signs of power drifting away from the group, issues of principle and procedure that may need clarifying, and achieve nothing.

Whispering can produce a governing body that is paralysed when it comes to important choices. These informal sessions may not be practicable, but just saying it shows how almost all governing bodies fail to speak plainly.

This is a worse problem than it used to be because since 2002 the law has made it so easy to give away the power we share. For instance, I have doubts about being able to elect a chair for as long as four years (except in Wales, as I discovered last week, where they have sensibly kept it as an annual decision which can easily produce continuity if people feel good about it, but doesn't make it so difficult to propose a change when necessary). It is also dangerous to be able to delegate nearly all decisions to an individual. In Wales, they kept a long list of exceptions.

We should now and then state that these shifts of power don't have to be accepted and that the children's interests sometimes require a more cautious use of our freedom.

A really good and democratic chair will keep reminding us that responsibility belongs to us all and we must take care of it. If you have that, you are halfway to a governing body with no unspoken resentments. But a new year also challenges the way we work together. The power we have been given belongs to the team. Yet how many governing bodies can say that all members pull their weight? We often excuse passengers by saying that we are all "only volunteers", after all. That debases the noble tradition we share with magistrates, jurors, trustees, and we do it every time we accept trivial excuses for absence, failure to keep promises and all lapses from high standards of teamwork.

The way forward is to have a more explicit commitment to pulling your weight, putting the school first, going to training, respecting others'

opinions, setting aside private interests. A governing body that shares these values is hard to pull apart.

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 where answers will appear

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