18th September 1998 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

Q Our previous head, and later the acting head who had been under his influence, were what you would call "territorial" - unwilling to accept that governors had any serious part to play. We are anxious to make a good start with the new head who has just taken up his post, but beginning with an ultimatum hardly seems the right prescription.

A I agree, no ultimatum. But it's a shame not to take advantage of a fresh start. I very much hope that you have already laid good foundations through the selection process.

The panel of governors you elected to carry out the short-listing and interviewing surely felt the need to find a governor-friendly candidate, and I should be surprised if you hadn't all discussed beforehand how you were going to find out what the candidates' approach to governors would be. The dialogue you had then is a kind of unwritten contract which you must not allow to be forgotten, so do show in casual ways that you remember.

You must talk with your headteacher now about general working-together issues.

The new School Standards and Framework Act gives you an ideal excuse to have a session with him in which you run through the responsibilities of governors as laid down in that Act: then, either on the spot or at some planned future date, you should talk as a group with the head about the kind of strategic information you need to have routinely so that you can keep yourselves informed of the school's work and life.

Ask your new head if in his report to you at meetings he could also give details of coming events, key dates, expected circulars, anything which will require a decision from governors, so that you can plan your involvement and meeting dates.

When you set up committees and task groups, ask whether a nominated member could be kept informed of any relevant in-school discussions in the early stages: it is highly desirable that governors should be aware of important changes at the brain-storming stage.

In everything, the key is to keep alert and ahead of events, not simply risk confrontation because matters have not been brought to you.

If all your efforts to perform your legal role are concentrated on things which have already gone wrong, your head is almost certain to become defensive.

Always be pleasant, expecting that the right thing will be done. The first meeting of the year is a great opportunity to get things on the right footing and most of us waste it.

* Joan Sallis has written a book which many heads have found helpful called "Heads and Governors: Building the Partnership": this says many things that you might find it hard to say yourself. She has some copies which she can pass on to any interested reader for pound;5 each including postage. Inquiries to Victoria Neumark, Editor, Governors' Page, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

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