6th June 1997 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions.

Q I have asked our local education authority - in vain - to rule that school employees cannot be governors (except, of course, if elected as teacher governors). I believe that one authority in East London has already done this - andI think it is right.

In our primary, nine of the12 governors have paid employment in the school, only three of them "legitmately" - the head and two teachers. The schoolkeeper has been co-opted, as has the finance officer, with a local private solicitor and a doctor who seem very isolated. A teacher is an LEA governor, and the parent governors are, respectively, a cleaner, a welfare assistant and another teacher.

Can you imagine what a powerful lobby this is on the head's side if there is ever any argument? Nobody dares challenge him. It is quite feudal and, I think, unhealthy.

A I agree that such a heavy presence of people who owe their livelihood to the school is undesirable - though some might argue that it also brings a high level of knowledge and commitment to the task. It is not, however, illegal in county schools (GM schools are a little more restrictive), and I think the local education authority you refer to, if it really has forbidden the appointment of employees, is acting outside the law.

I am against restricting the rights of employees to serve in other capacities because I think you get into a muddle if you try to legislate for everything silly that a group of people might do.

In other words, the question of balance is for those on the spot with the choices and, for this reason, it is not a problem in most schools. I only get complaints from areas with a certain socio-political character - areas where LEA appointments are very political, where the school is a significant employer, where many parents tend to be timid and compliant, and where the occasional heads are not averse to surrounding themselves with supporters and using influence to that end.

I urge heads to watch it: it is not healthy and they are in a good place to plead gently for balance. Co-options, a deliberate choice of all the governors who are not co-opted, should be used in these areas to introduce a bit of detachment, LEAs should be alerted where their choices are a problem,and parents who see the dangers should point them out to their fellow electors. It is only a matter of avoiding extremes.

Finally, remember that people are not incapable of separating their personal interests from those of the school. Trouble only arises when personal interest is combined with fear and lack of confidence. It is a poor head who exploits these things and surrounds him or herself with people who are afraid to speak freely.

A good head can empower even the dependent and timid. It's only necessary to say often: "Please don't be afraid to give us your honest opinion. I will think more highly of you for standing up to me when you need to."

Incidentally, I think the new Government may look favourably on representation of non-teaching staff as of right - if they get round to any modification of the present structure. I would support that, and encourage the many governing bodies who already co-opt one representative of support staff. They are a vital part of the school team.

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