Get your governing body back up to scratch

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Answers your questions

Following a poor inspection report some time ago our governing body has become somewhat depleted. I hope the school is back on track now, but apathy may make it difficult to fill vacancies. Also, our head doesn't appear to be interested in the governor dimension, and those of us who are left would greatly appreciate a bit of help to make this a lively part of school life which will contribute to a vibrant and forward-looking school again.

As chairman I feel very inadequate, and I am not sure that I even know some of the rules about eligibility any more.

For instance, we only know of three parents who are interested in becoming governors. One is a teacher with two children in the school. He therefore has a stake in its future, so he could be very enthusiastic. Another is the caretaker who also has children here and is very supportive in every way and an intelligent and lively person. The third is a parent governor who was suspended by colleagues for being outspoken when the school seemed to be going downhill, but the inspection proved her right in much of what she said. At the time she was unpopular and the head was particularly anti. Is she eligible?

We have no teacher governors at all now and I think we need four. We should have 18 governors all told. I think it crucial that staff are strongly represented. We understand that there are two teachers and one parent on the LEA's list as potential appointees in their group.

The head doesn't seem very interested in whether we have a full governing body at all. Can you advise please?

This sounds a worrying situation. The head is a critical factor. He is crazy in the circumstances not to give priority to establishing a strong and challenging governing body, and I wish your LEA would say this loudly.

Your head should be holding meetings with parents and staff, giving a positive message, inspiring them to stand, though even that is only of limited value if he is not prepared to work closely with you afterwards.

If your total strength is 18, you need at least six parent governors, but neither the teacher you mention nor the caretaker, if full-time, is eligible to stand. Why not encourage them to be staff governors? You could have up to six (minimum two, including the head if he chooses to serve.

Most do, and in your case I'd be a bit worried if he didn't). If you have three or more, one has to be support staff, and it sounds as if your caretaker would be very suitable. I should aim for at least four in your situation, as one teacher governor would be very isolated.

As for parent governors, with the two staff not being eligible, you need to be recruiting to make up a total of six at least, and if your suspended governor has completed her penance there is no reason why she should not stand. Indeed it sounds as though she might at least be awake.

I am shocked that in the circumstances the LEA is thinking of appointing a parent and a teacher to their contingent of only four. Staff are not eligible to be LEA governors anyway, but at least the teacher can stand for election by colleagues, and the parent would also be wise to stand for election.

The LEA must look for strong independent members from the community. You will also need to have at least six co-opted community members yourselves.

It is a big undertaking, I know, but you must be resolute in seeking strong members in each category and above all persuading the head that a school which has gone through a bad patch needs an effective governing body and a head prepared to work enthusiastically in partnership.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan strives to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum. We aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals.Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernors ask_the_expert where answers will appear.Joan Sallis's column now appears on this page every three weeks: see more of her answers on the TES website.

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