Joan Sallis answers your questions. Q. Our staff have revised the options for next year's Year 10. They propose dropping physics, chemistry and biology as separate subjects in favour of combined science. They have also decided to drop German and offer only French throughout the school as our German teacher is leaving and our budget is too tight to replace him. Parents are very upset about both proposals, which have leaked out, and are complaining. Surely as governors we can't be held responsible? This was the first we had heard of it as we have not yet had our summer meeting.
You can hardly be blamed for something you didn't decide, but that doesn't alter the fact that these are decisions in which you should without question have been involved. Not only would dropping subjects from or adding subjects to the curriculum be a policy decision requiring governors' agreement, but its effect on parents is such that any wise head would at the very least try to get governors' understanding and support first. It also seems extraordinary that the news leaked out so near the date when parents will have to know about the options. I would have expected discussion with them in advance.
Incidentally, I so often hear of decisions involving the curriculum or essential resourcing of a school which arise from budget cuts which have been made in a totally "unprincipled" way. I mean this in the sense that governors and staff have never discussed their priorities and principles, and when cuts loom they scan the right-hand column of figures looking for something roughly equating to what they have to save. This is a poor way to make a decision.
You urgently need to discuss governors' involvement in decisions more generally. Ask your head in her termly report to flag up issues that are looming so that you can organise your own involvement, plan meeting dates, working parties, consultations, and so on. And make some time in your plans to discuss principles and priorities.
I am interested in the teaching of reading, and I often go into school and sit in classes. One teacher in particular still uses only "look and say" and never shows children how to build up words from sounds. I thought this was frowned on now. I haven't said anything. Should I?
You should not use your visits to school as a means of intervening directly in the "how" of the teaching. This is a professional matter, and in any case the responsibility even for curriculum policy issues rests with the governing body and not any individual governors.
Most teachers use a variety of methods to teach reading, including both phonics and word recognition. Perhaps you haven't in your visits seen the whole picture. (There is a place for a bit of guesswork in the early stages of learning.) But it sounds to me as if you as a governing body ought to ask for an opportunity to hear from teachers about the school's reading policy. The exercise of your responsibility for the standards of the school rests mainly on outcomes, and if there were any cause for concern, either in national curriculum test results or an OFSTED comment, it would be important for you to be well informed.