20th September 1996 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions. Q. There are lots of things about our work as governors that seem to me wrong: people assuming agreement and rushing on; picking people to do things without a proper proposal so that you can't challenge without appearing to be against the person; tabling long and complex papers; some people hogging all the jobs; constantly having to approve things by ringing round instead of meeting (not quite legal) simply because we didn't plan it. Are we the only ones?

A. No. Every year about this time someone gives me the opportunity to say that the first meeting of the school year is so important, but most of us don't use it. You can't say in February: "Why did we elect that idiot to be chair again?" or in March: "We should refuse to take these tabled papers" or in May: "We are getting too cliquey". By then all these things have name tags on.

Talk to a few people in the early days of term - your head, chair, colleagues you specially like, as appropriate - and see if you can get some consensus on things you'd like to change. Then ask for the first item this year and the item on the corresponding agenda every year to be Working Together. Spend a little time talking about good working practices with your own particular bad ones in mind. Talk about the kind of chair you want. Talk about work-sharing, being a bit more formal (a certain amount of formality is essential to democratic working), only tabling papers in an emergency, looking ahead and asking your head to help you do this.

Review your committees and jobs if responsibility is drifting away from the majority. At this stage in the year it's not embarrassing and any new colleagues will benefit also. And resolve to treat them as you yourself would like to have been welcomed when you were new.

Q. Is it all right to have a short special meeting to do co-options and not elect the chair till the full meeting? Can we interview likely co-optees if we have more offers than places? Should previous co-optees attend?

A. I've never been quite sure about the legality of postponing the election of chair and vice-chair until your governing body is somewhere near complete. The regulations do specify the "first meeting of the school year". Although I know that many schools interpret this as meaning the full termly business meeting and, as you do, choose co-optees first in a short special meeting, the strict letter of the law throws doubt on this.

You are also up against the fact that you co-opt to fill a vacancy, which under the practice you describe may not have occurred, though I accept that after the first early co-option this will right itself. The first time, however, as the co-option operates from the date of the meeting, you could at some stage be over your complement. I accept the desirability of having as many of the team assembled as you can before you elect, to give co-optees and new parent and teacher governors a chance to take part: it is at least as important to have the parent and teacher vacancies filled as the co-opted ones.

Joan Sallis has just been awarded an honorary doctorate of law by Oxford Brookes University. 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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