14th February 1997 at 00:00
Question: I am becoming unpopular as a new governor who takes it seriously. I believe we should sometimes visit the school without notice. How else are we to check?

On a recent visit I saw a French class virtually out of control with children throwing pencils and darts, and chewing sweets. I sat in a science lesson where I'm sure the bright ones were bored to death while others floundered.

I looked at some history work-books which showed clearly that homework had not been marked for weeks. Children said one teacher never set any English homework. I shall take up all these matters.

Answer: It would be good if your colleagues were equally keen and prepared to give up time, of course, but it is vital to put time and enthusiasm to good use. What you suggest is quite unacceptable in my view: I urge you to stop and reflect.

Governors ought to see children at work as often as they can. But they visit schools to learn, not judge. Judgment belongs to the governing body acting in a strategic and united way.

Not even the most defensive head has a right to stop governors visiting - provided the visits fulfil a decision by the governing body.

This might be that a different governor should visit every month. Or that a small group of governors eats school dinners for a week, or as many governors as possible sit in on reading lessons before they discuss a change in reading policy. But these are purposeful visits, corporately planned, and will in time feed wisdom into shared decisions.

Even then courtesy and, increasingly, children's safety, demand that all visitors make appointments and negotiate how they spend the time. The school is a workplace, and the head is repsonsible to the governors for running it properly. Keen and inexperienced governors often feel as you do,but I do believe that it harms relationships for all, not just you, and is sure to destroy trust.

No school improvement can take place without trust, and schools which make the headlines have nearly always done so, not because a bit of pencil throwing or unmarked homework has gone unchecked, but because there had been a lack

of trust, common purpose, and corporate planning.

Governors have a role in all the matters you picked up. They can lay down behaviour guidelines, discuss how new or struggling teachers are supported, agree the form of ability grouping of pupils, and make sure the school has a homework policy with a senior member of staff who will oversee it, helping parents to monitor it through a day-book, and receiving complaints.

A well-informed individual governor shares in building sound policies, but it is not for us to check that people do their jobs.

Questions 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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