Any other business?

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Answers governors' questions

Some of us - especially the parent group - feel excluded from any real say in the work of the governing body, which is determined by the agenda, which just appears. The only times my friends and I have asked for something to be discussed we have not been successful. This makes us feel we are being muzzled and that perhaps the things we want debated would upset somebody's applecart. You often talk about A and B teams, and "censorship by agenda" seems to be the main way that some members get to be "more equal than others".

Many governors will echo your sentiments and I do have suggestions for change but first let me dispose of what may be misunderstandings.

I do not really think that this agenda business is a deliberate conspiracy against democracy - which is not to say that it is working well. The agenda has to be decided in advance otherwise no preparation of papers or thinking about issues can take place, but you cannot have as many as 20 people meeting just to decide what is going to be discussed.

Neither can you accept extra items on the night unless they are urgent because (a) you'd run out of time and (b) nobody would have had a chance to think at their own speed about them - which isn't very democratic either.

So you need a mechanism in the form of a small group who will meet beforehand. The obvious nucleus is head, chair and clerk to draw up an agenda, and this is exactly what happens in most schools.

This agenda will contain a few things which are "regulars" (apologies, head's report), a few which come up because of the time of year (election of chair, exam results, entry numbers), and a few arising from national or LEA initiatives.

Anyone is at liberty to make suggestions - if they know when and to whom, and that's the first thing to put right with regular reminders - but there is no clear right to have those suggestions accepted, except on the night of the meeting.

Now that's really quite democratic because the decision can in theory be the whole governing body's, but the snag is it may not be practical to squeeze it in at that meeting and the next may be too late.

So firstly a school needs to publicise the fact that a group meets and will consider suggestions for the agenda by a certain date. Then I think in a perfect world there ought to be a national rule that any three governors have a right to put an item on if they ask in time. That is in line with the existing rule that any three can arrange a special meeting - which is a much more significant right - and it is also a safeguard against hobby-horses.

The Government does not seem to have been keen on that idea, but in the new permissive atmosphere I do not see why any governing body cannot adopt it as a policy. One warning. If you want to suggest an arrangement like this it is important that small groups do not use it to discuss concerns affecting individuals. They should be genuine issues of school policy which are suitable for discussion in a policy-making body.

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