5th May 1995 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions. I've just taken over the headship of a school where the governors as good as refuse to make any decision. They constantly defer items to another meeting if they are difficult or there is disagreement. They have committees but the chairs don't call meetings, saying they can't agree on a date. They won't go to training. They ask me to take on the annual report or policy writing, not even wanting to see it in draft. The chair seems unconcerned. Should I, as head, cease to be a governor?

Stay - you need that status to be tough enough. You don't say, but perhaps your predecessor didn't let them into things very much and they feel too ill-informed to contribute. Or the local education authority has nannied them too much and acquiesced in the head running everything. That's the kindest explanation.

But you need drastic measures. If you can identify any governor with a bit of promise, you must get one or two to take lead roles since it sounds like a change of chair would be a good idea when the opportunity comes. Identify those too who never take an interest and be ready to suggest successors when they go. You can often persuade the LEA or foundation to accept a suggestion when there is a vacancy, persuade a good parent or teacher to stand, suggest a co-option yourself when there is an opportunity. The pressures you put on may persuade those who have no intention of working to resign.

Now to the pressures. At the next meeting convey some high expectations of them. Tell them what decisions are imminently needed and that they are legally responsible. You need a year's calendar of committee meetings. Take account of school events and, if appropriate, council meetings, and ask whether particular evenings are difficult for anybody. Then just do it, and remind each chair in time, asking him or her to ring around the group.

Give some jobs out, modest at first, and always ask for them when there are plenty of people around. Have training put on the agenda and say you want the names of who's going to an event in good time. You are going yourself, tell them, and you will call for them. When you invite them to school events ask who intends to come and write down names in the meeting. If they don't come ask them, at a meeting, what happened.

Don't allow anything to be deferred without a special reason. Say you need a decision before you leave the meeting. Ask them lots of questions individually at meetings: what they think about various aspects of the school, how they think you should tackle a particular problem. Make them easy - you aren't setting out to humiliate them.

Invite them individually to come and look at some specific activity in school. Make a date and don't let non-attendance pass unnoticed. Be pleasant but firm.

So far I've talked only about trying to solve it yourself. I don't know how much your LEA accepts responsibility as it varies a lot. If there is an officer you get on with, or think should be concerned, it may be a good idea to lay on a session about responsibilities. Maybe your governor training co-ordinator can help: do they ever do single-school training sessions on site in your area?

To come back to you, I think you have been too nice, saying perhaps "after all they are only volunteers". Try saying it to yourself differently, in an indignant voice: "But they're volunteers". You have a right, therefore, to expect them to do what they have volunteered to do. I'm well aware they may all resign under even the gentlest pressure. Be ready for a fresh start which, if the culture is too deep, may be your best hope.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

Fax: 0171 782 3200

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