11th October 1996 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions.

Q. I have recently been appointed to my second headship in a larger school in another LEA. I have been used to a clerk from my previous education authority putting governors right on legal and procedural matters. As a result, I didn't have to memorise everything myself, and frankly I won't have time to do this or spend time with governors for a while as I've inherited a lot of problems that I must tackle first. The trouble is that my new authority does no clerking and my clerk is a parent, very willing and with some secretarial skills but little knowledge of the working of governing bodies and with no authority to guide the governors. Why the difference, and have you any advice?

A. I'm sorry to have to be severe with you, but in the part of your letter I haven't quoted you say that you are a governor yourself, and that choice carries responsibilities as well as privileges. Not only does it mean abiding by corporate decisions and being loyal to governor colleagues but also getting to know the basics of governorship, going to training if need be. Also, if you have inherited problems you shouldn't make the mistake of tackling them and then getting to grips with your governors' development. Your governors have been part of whatever has happened, even if only by ignoring it. In this situation governors are not an optional "add-on" to be informed and put straight when time permits, as many critical OFSTED reports are now showing; their proper acceptance of responsibility should be a first priority.

Many LEAs do, as you say, undertake clerking, but even in these the governors can choose whether to have it and to get an allowance to pay for it. This allowance is rarely more than Pounds 500, and of course although in an ideal world a clerk who can be omniscient is a treasure, you are lucky if you get both knowledge and authority as well as the core duties for that. I believe this is something the Government may have to rethink, because I agree that a clerk who knows the rules and has the confidence to assert them makes a vast difference.

Some governing bodies have overcome the problem by incorporating a bit of self-help on rules into every meeting. I have written material for this purpose for Northamptonshire County Council, who will sell you the pack in book form for Pounds 5 including postage if your LEA has not subscribed to it. It is called Working together: rules and good practices for school governing bodies. The units are very brief and simple, and the idea originally was that at every meeting the link governor, a volunteer governor or the clerk should read out one unit. Everybody hears it together and nobody can deny it. It can also be used as a reference book. Alternatively, if you are short of time you could get the audio cassette of my Basics for school governors, published by Action for Governors' Information and Training. They also publish my Heads and governors: building the partnership. You are quite right to say that knowing the proper principles and procedures of teamwork is fundamental to good decisions, and if you take it seriously your governors will do so too.

u Northamptonshire Governor Services, Russell House, Rickyard Road, The Arbours, Northampton. AGIT, Lyng Hall, Blackberry Lane, Coventry CV2 3JS. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200.

e-mail: letters@tes.1.demon.

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