16th July 1999 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers governors' questions

As an education authority officer servicing governors I am asked how to advise the new staff representatives on their role. Can you take me through the issues they are likely to raise, so that I can answer questions and plan appropriate training materials?

* You are concerned, I'm sure, with the new category of governors representing support staff, sometimes referred to as non-teaching staff, who have to be in place in all but the very smallest schools from September.

Although all governors have the same responsibilities, and the same tightrope to walk between representing a particular interest group and promoting the school's general well-being, the new governors we are talking about may encounter particularly difficult problems.

These new governors represent a very wide range of staff. Parent governors and teacher governors have problems - often aired in this column - but at least those they represent have something very basic in common, whereas the term "support staff" covers functions ranging from bursars and science technicians to midday supervisors and cleaners and kitchen helpers. Any such staff employed and individually paid by the school, whether full time or part time, can stand for election and vote. The exceptions are staff paid directly by the LEA or staff who work in the school but are employees of an agency which pays them (eg, a catering firm providing lunches or one offering cleaning under contract to the school): these are not eligible.

A number of issues follow from this. First, the new governors must be careful not merely to concern themselves with matters relevant to their own jobs, such as finance, caretaking or welfare.

Second, because they may not run into their fellow support staff as often or as naturally as parents meet other parents or teachers other teachers, and may even work in different parts of the premises or at different times, they may have to devise some means of getting together before and after governors' meetings to pick up concerns and report back.

Third, because some of their interests may not yet be regular governors' business, they may at first have to work hard to bring support staff issues into the frame for others.

Last, because their concerns may have been sidelined by governing bodies in the past, they may need to guard against going to the other extreme, and remember that all governors are there to consider together the strategic interests of the school as a whole. If these conflict with a sectional interest whole-school needs come first: we may all at some time have to accept that something we feel strongly about does not secure general support.

The inclusion of support staff representatives will be welcomed by most other governors, and it will no doubt be stressed in general training and guidance that they are vital members of the whole school team. It would help them to get involved if, at least for a while, every agenda had a slot for them to report matters of interest or concern. All concerned should treat them with respect, encouragement and support.

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