Joan Sallis answers your questions
Q When I retired early from a professional career I offered myself for co-option, thinking I could contribute a lot.
Instead I seem to have upset everybody. I spent a day in school sitting in classes, and in one offered some suggestions about the way a lesson was presented. It seemed to me that it was aimed at the slowest learner, with much repetition, and some abler children seemed bored and restless. I asked whether it would be possible to give them some work on their own.
From my reading, I understood that governors were there to provide a fresh perspective which could improve schools.
But this teacher took it badly, I gather, complained to the head and asked to be excused any more visits from governors. When he corrected me, the head used the opportunity to refer to various comments I had made at my first meeting about the way the general office was organised, again meant to be constructive. After all, that is something I really know about as a former office manager.
Why are teachers so touchy?
A We are all desperate to seem interested and to make a contribution when we are new to something. It is sad that this desire has already got you into hot water and, like you, I wish professionals would not react too soon especially to such well-known beginners' mistakes.
However, if I could have the ear of any new governor for 10 minutes after appointment I would choose just the kind of interventions you have made as examples of two fundamental principles. In other words, you have behaved inappropriately and, in your place, I would apologise, adding that I meant well but now understood things better.
The two principles are first that no individual governor has power to act, advise, or criticise. The power belongs to the governing body acting together - within a fairly rigid structure. Second, even the whole governing body is not there to check up on the performance of paid staff day by day, especially in the "how" of curriculum delivery.
The headteacher is accountable to you as a group for the performance of the school, and when individuals visit, observe, or read about the detail of school life, they are all the time building up a familiarity which will help them to contribute to many discussions in which the knowledge will be relevant.
I am sure that if you can be patient your sharp eyes and your experience will make you a very valuable contributor to this corporate activity.
We are not just cheerleaders. We are responsible - but not day-by-day- for the quality of what is delivered by the school and, in a general sense, consent to the methods by which it is delivered. We also have general oversight of the efficiency of the school as an organisation.
We exercise this responsibility through a number of processes: sharing in the construction of the school development plan and its basic operating policies; approving major curriculum change; debating such matters as the organisation of different ability levels; helping to appoint staff.
We should also have provision in our work schedules for full regular review of the school's performance. I am not saying it is easy, unless the head and staff are exceptionally positive about the role of governors, to establish such intervention at this stage of our evolution, but it is what the law intends. The law does not intend that individual governors should intervene in the management of lessons or school administration.
Q I am retired with lots of hobbies and I would like to offer some help with clubs, etc, if I am co-opted (decision pending). Someone has suggested that this lets teachers off the hook - that they ought to give full support to worthwhile activities outside the classroom. Any comments?
A I agree that teachers' support for out-of-class activities should be encouraged in every way. At the same time, nearly all schools could use extra help with them and I see governors with the time and skill to enrich what schools can offer as a valuable asset.
It is also a good way for governors to learn about the school and its pupils. I think the activities should be under the general direction of a teacher, however. They are educational activities in a broad sense and the quality must be what the outside world expects from a school.
Teachers are also trained to have sharp eyes and ears for safety considerations which even the most conscientious outsider without experience of young people in such situations cannot match; it is harder to establish safe conditions in a club situation than in the stricter discipline of a classroom.