How the rule changes will affect your school;Governors;Briefing

1st October 1999 at 01:00
Welcome to the world of Statutory Instrument 1999, no 2163. Joan Sallis gives an overview of the impact of the new regulations.

MOST governing bodies will have lived through, if not actually read, this term's changes to their numbers and membership, advised by their local authority. Few, though, will yet have had a chance to take in the new regulations about how governing bodies work (Statutory Instrument 1999, number 2163). The main changes will affect everyone.

There was talk of the need to be able to remove "rogue governors" during the MPs' consultation. I feel that we need lone voices of conscience, even if troublesome. In any event, the Government rejected a sacking proc-edure for all governors. But it is now possible to remove co-opted governors considered by a large majority of colleagues (two meetings, special high quorum, lots of safeguards) to deserve it.

Parent and teacher governors may not be dismissed, and LEA and foundation governors may only be dismissed for good reason by their appointing body.

A new provision many will welcome is that an appointed governor disqualified for non-attendance may not be re-appointed in the same capacity to the same school within 12 months.

Teachers and other staff are no longer eligible to be co-opted to their own governing bodies, and existing co-optees may not vote on co-options: this latter was always the case in local authority schools and now applies also to former grant-maintained schools.

Teacher and other staff governors may - as always - serve on any committee.

They may take part in discussions of policies even on pay and appraisal - this was under threat earlier - but may not take part when the pay and appraisal of individual colleagues are discussed.

The rules on committees are a little more prescriptive. Governors must review their membership, terms of reference and working rules at least annually. Every governing body must set up a committee on pupil discipline with three or five members, as well as one on staff dismissal with three members; they must provide for second or appeal committees of members untouched by previous involvement and with no fewer members than the first committee.

On pupil discipline committees, governors may establish a pool of members to call on for individual hearings. I welcome this, knowing how hard it can be to fit such meetings in around the availability of both the pupil's parents and governors with no prior involvement. The process might have been unworkable with only five named governors.

Statutory committees on staff dismissal and pupil discipline must be clerked - as must meetings of the full governing body. The clerk may not be a governor.

Minutes must be kept of all committees, though with no restriction on the clerking of non-statutory ones. A new departure is the possibility of giving voting rights to non-governors co-opted on to committees.

This worried me at first, with visions of finance committees packed with non governor suits, curriculum committees full of teachers, or premises committees chaired by local builders - but the rules are strict. Anyone proposed as a voting co-optee must be individually voted in by the whole governing body; no non-governor may chair a committee; and governor members must always be in a majority when decisions are made. Even so, I think this may need watching.

I mentioned clerking, and there is a new rule that no governor can in future be appointed clerk to hisher governing body or a statutory committee. I know it is not easy to contribute while taking notes, but I think this rule may be very difficult for some schools. Perhaps, however, it will lead to more realistic allowances for clerking - professional standards need professional funding.

There is also an unsurprising prohibition on heads being clerks in their own school.

The appointment of the chair is to be somewhat more formal. From September 1, it has had to be by secret ballot, and from June 2000 any nominations are to be made in advance and included in the agenda, though nominations may still be made at the meeting if no one has been proposed. This should concentrate minds helpfully, with fewer governors complaining that the same person was re elected while they were finding their glasses. If you really want a change you have to do something about it.

We now have a much better definition of the (very restricted) circumstances in which a chair may take action without instructions from the governing body. The chair may still only act in circumstances where it is impossible to call a special meeting and where delay could threaten harm to the school or anyone in it.

But in addition the action taken must now be one which it would be legal to delegate anyway, and there aren't many of those.

Finally, the regulations on declaring an interest have changed. Previous wordings were vague on anything other than straight pecuniary interest, but for teachers there was that excellent phrase "an interest greater than the generality of teachers", whose disappearance I regret. Those words did, if you were firm enough, protect teacher governors against undue restriction of role.

I know unions are worried about the new definition. It brings in the concept of conflict of interest and also that of reasonable doubt about a governor's ability to be impartial. These seem reasonable, but teachers fear that those who wish to exclude them from sensitive discussions may now find it easier. We shall all have to be vigilant on their behalf.

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