11th April 1997 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions. Q. What would be your advice to a governor surrounded by colleagues who take the line of least resistance on everything and make you wonder why they took on the responsibility at all? Our head is quite open and willing to work with us, but she gets no response and will soon, I fear, give up.

A. I haven't quoted all your question but I gather your fellow parent governors feel the same as you and your teacher governors are also quite keen, so you have almost half your governing body, counting the head, on board with you.

Therefore your problem is of appointed and co-opted governors. If your local authority is appointing people with little interest and commitment, why not identify a likely recruit or two from the community who would really make a contribution, and then write a polite letter from the head, teacher and parent governors to the chairman of the education committee asking if, when there are vacancies, one of these could be appointed?

Stress that in current conditions every school needs people with a keen interest in the school and not too many competing commitments. While you are about it, look for some likely co-optees too so that you are ready when someone leaves. Many of us moan about what we get but aren't sufficiently ahead of the action in finding alternatives. Similarly with chairman elections.

As to what you do in the meantime, it's not too bad if you have eight or so active people for a start. If you want to do something and get doused with cold water, just ask whether there is any objection to those who are keen going ahead on a trial basis. I know I've said it a hundred times, but the key to solving problems like yours is high expectations of each other, and especially high expectations of us by the head. Often people talk of "volunteers" as though that excused everything. I'd like to turn that round and say that volunteering entitles others to expect the best of you.

A governing body culture which is against slacking, against negative attitudes, against disloyalty, can be very powerful, but you must be explicit about it and actually hold to account those who don't fit the bill. Don't pussyfoot. If you have high expectations it will all come out quite naturally. Ask who would like to go to a training event and then report back. If there is a silence ask Fred. Write down "Fred" if he can't for a moment think of an excuse. Writing a name or names can be very powerful even if you lose the bit of paper later. Encourage the head to ask who is coming to a school event, and write down the names, and follow it up. Tell her not to expect too little.

Over most of the country the newer governors seem altogether keener, more realistic, prepared to work hard without much recognition. The rest are gradually getting the message and either adapting or leaving. In some areas the process is impeded by local authority or occasionally foundation appointments which take no account of changing needs. We can help to highlight this problem.

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