21st June 1996 at 01:00
If we are to play a proper watchdog part, surely we ought to be able to drop into the school without warning?

Governors do have a watchdog role but it belongs to the governing body as a whole. Individual governors have no power to judge, advise, warn or change things, and go into school only to learn.

No one can prevent a governor visiting in fulfilment of a governing body decision, for example, that two governors should sample the dinners for a week or that every governor, in turn, should spend a morning in a class. But even these visits have to be arranged with the head and staff concerned, the purpose must be understood and proper notice given. In the absence of a relevant governing body decision you can go in only by head's invitation.

Our chairman is a kindly and pleasant man long retired from farming who has never taken a lead on anything. I'm not saying the school needs turning upside down, but it does tend to be complacent. We have also had a few squalls with parents over amalgamating junior classes to accommodate more infants and over tightening up on uniform without allowing for people who had just bought new things. As for the actual schoolwork, children seem to enjoy school and are learning, but how it rates with other schools and whether we could do better I have no idea.

Governors must realise they have a right to the information they need to judge how their school is performing, including comparative and "value-added" information (measures of how much difference the school has made). Maybe your head is enjoying her quiet life, but your fellow governors could be like you and bewildered about how to embark on a more questioning approach.

You must take it step at a time. Your governing body has failed in its duty to parents in not enabling them to question and debate controversial changes in matters like age grouping and uniform. But you are no longer new enough to be able to say "they" failed. As a group you let things pass - and every governor is responsible, even for saying nothing.

You need to think about changing the chair and now is an ideal time. You must start immediately to talk about the problem with some of your colleagues and see if anyone else is willing. You must also prepare your present chair - it is unkind not to.

The good solution is to change explicitly what you expect from the chair and the style you favour. The old style of chair who does everything after a fashion is hard to replace, but if you think of it more as a team-building role, with the governors taking responsibility as a group for sharing decisions and all taking responsibility as individuals for sharing the ceremonial duties, regular contact with the head and the actual paper work, it increases the range to choose from. If you suspect that your head would like more response and despairs of ever getting it, talk this idea over with her too.

Joan Sallis was awarded an OBE in last week's Honours List. Questions for Joan should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200.e-mail:

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