Attending your first meeting as a new governor is rather like tuning in to your first episode of East- Enders. You don't know who any of the people are, you haven't the least idea what's going on, and some of the expressions used are incomprehensible.
We have two new governors this term, and getting them up to speed as well-informed, active members of the governing body is a priority. Our local education authority provides an introductory pack and runs a course for new governors, but as both of our new appointees will be co-opted immediately before the first meeting of the year, they will receive all this retrospectively. It is up to us to give them the initial information they need.
As soon as they expressed an interest, I took them both a copy of our school's guide to governors' responsibilities. I wrote this a couple of years ago in six weeks of frenzied activity when I came across a list of all the areas governors were supposed to have policies on - and realised I'd never seen most of them. I summarised all the policies, added sections on staff appointments, reporting to parents, financial management and complaints procedures and OFSTED - in 24 pages. I also wrote a code of conduct, on the grounds that our governors were so well behaved it could not possibly offend anyone, and it would start any new governor off on the right foot.
The next stage involved a different approach for each person. One volunteer is the recently-retired deputy head of the high school we feed who has been a teacher governor at his own school. There is little I could tell him, so I gave him some background reading to bring him up to date.
The other is a parent and part-time helper. She knows the staff, the building and the children well so, after I gave her a run-down on the composition and character of the governing body, I decided the best way to prepare her was to re-run our last meeting.
I gave her all the papers sent out before the meeting - minutes, head's report, committee reports, list of correspondence received, budget proposals, draft annual report to parents, etc - and explained how we could only get through the business if governors had read all the supporting papers before the meeting.
We then ran through the agenda, and I explained what had been discussed. The review of the county LMS formula, the nursery voucher scheme and the key stage 2 league tables were all items for discussion last term, so I explained how all of these would affect our school and how important it was that we responded to consultation documents and made our views known.
She had ample opportunity to ask questions and have acronyms and education jargon explained, all of which she would have been loath to do in a real meeting. We spent a couple of hours over this, and I left feeling that she was ready to understand and participate in her first full meeting next week, as long as I haven't put her off. I just hope she turns up!
Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands.