26th March 1999 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

I only want to help my local school and have been willing to put my considerable expertise at its disposal. I know that if I were a personnel manager or an accountant I would be received with open arms as a governor and my experience exploited fully.

However, I am not an accountant or a personnel manager but a lecturer on the BEd course for primary teachers in the nearby university town, and was naive enough to think I might as a governor be able to help raise standards - our role surely? I am passionately committed to good teaching, and have some time to spare. This I am prepared to put at the school's disposal to do what I do well, supporting teachers, and improving classroom practice.

As the school took on three newly-qualified teachers last term and I have heard what parents say about them, I'm sure there are problems. Indeed, I do not send my own children to this school because its standards are not high.

I cannot believe they are rejecting help. I have been told that such help would not be "appropriate" and I was furious when I heard that the head had told another governor that I had a "private agenda". I have nothing to gain - the suggestion is ludicrous. They don't deserve keen governors.

I do sympathise about the "private agenda" comment which I too hate to hear. But in other ways, though I don't doubt your good motives, I have more understanding of your school's feelings.

Many teachers lack self-confidence - as you know well - and if they are having problems they are most likely to be unaware of it. If you were a personnel manager your expertise would be gladly used because few people who work in a school reckon to know anything about employment law and practice, but you are offering to improve their work in a dimension where they have their main or only expertise. So what? you may say, they'll often have to be inspected and advised in their professional work.

But the people who inspect and advise them operate within an ordered structure and will have senior advisers and inspectors who line-manage them, correct them if they are wrong, adjudicate if there is disagreement.

You, in contrast, are "out of control", a person of vague authority but subject to no constraints that they can understand. (In a school lucky enough to have a bursar, by the way, your accountant-governor mightn't have such an easy ride, especially if they said the accounts were a mess.) But it's more serious than that. You as a governor are seen as having power in many areas that concern teachers - departmental budgets, pay, discipline. How, they may wonder, are you going to use the impressions you gain from working alongside them, when real governor decisions come up?

I said "real", which brings us close to the most powerful reason for rejecting your help. This is that such help would take you into just the kind of territory that governors should keep out of at all costs, the day-by-day management of learning in the classroom.

Such involvement is not "appropriate" for governors - your head used the right word - because it is operational, not strategic, and most governors are not qualified to make decisions at that level.

When it comes to true strategic issues, to do with altering the framework of policy within which teachers teach, your expertise will count. I'm thinking of times when you might discuss the merits of different reading policies, the role of middle management in monitoring teaching quality, and the implications of that for appointment arrangements, in-service training and non-contact time.

I'm sure, by the way, that you know that your decision on your own children's schooling hasn't helped, however well-founded it may be.

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