Joan Sallis answers your questions.
Q: I'm a parent governor of a comprehensive with 900 pupils aged 11-16. As a parent I think I know quite a lot about its workings, but would say that was only a fraction of what I need as a governor. Some colleagues know a good deal less. The headteacher is quite open, but he is the sole source of the basic information we need to understand the school and monitor its performance, and I defy any one person to cover everything governors need in such a big establishment. Sometimes, though his intentions are good, he forgets things he means to share, or at busy times seems to forget for short periods that we exist. My question is whether only the head should build the relationship with us, or whether at least the senior staff should be involved in feeding us information and insights and answering our questions.
A: I know that there are some heads who regard the governing body's affairs as a sort of personal fiefdom (or lonely cross to bear, depending on attitude), but it does need someone of superhuman energy and ability to cover all our information needs.
A good school will have regular systems of information flow which bring in deputies and curriculum leaders, and where every member of staff might on occasion acquaint governors with an issue or present informative material. It ensures the maximum coverage of school affairs for governors; it establishes accountability down the line; it is essential in-service training for deputies and middle management who may one day carry the prime burden of accountability; and above all, perhaps, it builds knowledge and acceptance of the role of governors among all staff.
The appropriate deputy commonly represents the head at committees on curriculum, staffing, student affairs or finance and provides information and answers to governors' questions. Staff one level down are often asked to talk to governors on some aspect of these broad fields, and ordinary class or subject teachers can develop professionally from making short presentations to governors.
Interested governors might also attend staff meetings on issues which are at the sketch-plan stage of consideration - a stage where governors can often understand the issues much better than at the final approval stage.
When a suitable opportunity comes, you should ask your head to arrange one-off staff contacts on particular subjects and move on to suggesting more regular devolution of strategic information services and some arrangement for individual governors to spend time in classes.
Your deputies, if they want promotion, ought themselves to ensure that they are involved with governors. The head should, of course, always be aware of what information is being sought and given, and both staff and governors must be careful not to by-pass the head in anything of importance since this, besides making a head feel insecure, is dangerous.