18th April 1997 at 01:00

I don't suppose we are the only ones tearing our hair out over girls' skirt lengths, but parents have asked us to do something about the extremes. Either trailing on the ground or barely covering essentials seems to be acceptable to our girls, but nothing in between. Are we responsible?


I do have a few letters on the subject. I'm afraid you have to share responsibility with the management, and parents are in order to make representations to you. As usual, however, they expect the school to succeed where they have failed. My fellow governors will tell you that when we had exactly the same request I was a wet blanket, remembering all the battles I had lived through: boys' hair clear of the collar, and then in no time at all no shorter than one inch at any point; no narrow trousers, no wide trousers. Remember the fashion for the old gent's gravy-stained cardigan with darned elbows? My own father remained bewildered to his grave as to why he had been bought a brand new one out of Saturday earnings. But this is a story against myself, since when some less cynical governor suggested putting it to the school's council for solution, the students came back with the very clear formula: between mid-thigh and mid-calf. Worth trying, anyway.


Our education authority sends out the agenda for every governors' meeting. I assume it consults someone in the school, but as governors we don't always accept the priorities given to different subjects, and urgent school business sometimes falls off the agenda. Can we do anything about this? Have we a right to suggest items?


I know that some authorities still carry on as though the legislation of 1986 and 1988 had never happened, while others have been leaving the agenda to the individual school for longer than they can remember. In the former group they would probably say they were only offering a model, and governors were free to do what they wished with it. The trouble is that many governors, like you, don't know that.

It is your agenda. You as a body decide on the content, the priority given to different items, and, at the meeting, any changes, deletions or additions. But you clearly need a mechanism for doing this, and in most schools the governors agree to a group, normally the chair, head and clerk, drawing up the agenda on their behalf and considering any items put forward by others. The education authority will normally have matters which they would like all schools to consider and a few which they are required by law to ask you to consider.

In theory there is no reason why any individual governor should not be able to put items on the agenda. In practice it's not so easy, since although the governing body is the ultimate authority it cannot vote to include a disputed item until the meeting in question, when it may be too late to ensure immediate and proper consideration. This means that in effect the individual or group making up the agenda can block individual suggestions.

I hope that one day the Government may pass a regulation allowing any three governors an unquestioned right to put an item on the agenda, just as any three can call a special meeting. Meanwhile, there is no reason why any governing body should not adopt this as an agreed working practice.

A governing body could even make a rule for itself that any single individual governor had that right. Personally, if I were making it automatic I would go for the safeguard of three governors, especially as that might make it easier to get agreement.


At our termly meeting we made an important decision about the staffing structure, which some governors didn't like. Three governors then called a special meeting, ostensibly to discuss the budget cuts, where some governors brought up the restructuring again as the two subjects were linked. There was a vote to add staffing structure to the agenda, and a further vote which reversed the decision of the previous meeting.

This seemed to me sharp practice as it was a poorly attended meeting, barely quorate, owing to short notice. Can we fight it?


You don't need to fight it. It is not a legal decision. The governors' regulations rule that a decision can be rescinded only at a subsequent meeting if the agenda for the latter includes the item. The purpose of the rule is to avoid just what took place in your school, namely a return to an important matter when there has been no prior indication that it was to be reconsidered.

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