24th September 2004 at 01:00
Answers your governors' questions

I am standing for election as parent governor and judging by the support, am likely to get in. I have been active in the PTA and know the school and its problems - this is my third child here. But I sense that this is a more formal role and feel daunted by committee procedures. Phrases like 'through the chair' paralyse me. Can you help?

The great majority of governing bodies are simple and friendly. Where they are more formal it is usually down to one or two people - councillors, say - who are used to formality and like it, but even here the majority usually prevail against excess.

There are good reasons for some conventions, and it might be a good idea to get a book on committee procedure from your local library to give you confidence. But it's likely to be more informal than any book.

Much more important is to understand the principles behind the rules, because if you know those you will do the right thing without fuss. So what are these principles?

Well, let's start with this through the chair bit. You have up to 20 members and it's vital they cover the subject in an ordered way, all get a chance to contribute, don't speak at once, and keep to the point. This is vital especially for new and perhaps timid members and the chair intervenes where necessary to ensure a fair discussion. It is sensible to indicate when you want to speak and a good chair will bring you in.

Another important principle is that members whose opinion might be swayed by personal interest keep their distance. If you or your family stands to benefit from a decision - eg unfairly obtain a post or favour their child - this should come out in the open. Probably in this case you won't vote.

When it comes to decisions it's vital everyone is clear about what the issue is and all related proposals, counter-proposals or amendments. The rules on the quorum are crucial: at least 50 per cent of governors must attend full meetings. The governing body sets the rules for committees, which reminds me that that you should be clear what can and cannot be delegated to a group or individual and take it seriously.

Occasionally a governing body has to cope with a serious disagreement or grievance between members. In extreme cases the whole body should sort it, but generally a wise chair will do so informally.

TES welcomes your queries. but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Send questions to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see

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