Joan Sallis answers your questions.
Q) I am a parent governor of a primary school and I am also chair of the management committee of a pre-school playgroup. The school has surplus accommodation and is so opposed to the voucher system forcing four-year-olds into reception classes, simply in order to safeguard their places at five, that the head is disposed to let space to our playgroup instead and give it every support. Our local authority is sympathetic. The matter is coming up at the next meeting and I think it will be controversial as some governors would favour the alternative policy of expanding school numbers. I was hoping I could present the case for the playgroup as I know the arguments on pre-school issues so well. I have been told by one of our governors that it is improper and that I must take no part, not even vote. Is this right?
A) Your colleagues must certainly be made aware of your interest, as a minimum. It is the governing body (by majority vote if necessary) who decide initially whether there is a special interest in the legal sense which requires you to keep out of it. In theory, any decision so made, one way or the other, could have its legality challenged in the courts if any sufficiently powerful interested party disagreed with it.
As it is so clearly a political issue for some, the governors should take no chances. In any case, I have no doubt myself that you should neither present the case for the playgroup nor vote. I am sure someone else on your committee will do a good job, and it will be better for you in the long run as no one will be able to say that the decision was not made properly. You may not personally have a monetary interest, but you are the figurehead of an organisation which does. In any case it is not just financial interest which would make it proper for a governor to withdraw: any strong identification with an interest beyond the school can lead to the charge of abusing your position as a governor.