I am concerned about what happened to our governing body this spring and summer. The implications are just beginning to dawn on me. We were reconstituted and had some new governors. We then delegated various one-off decisions, either to the head or the chair. How serious these were was only brought home to me by a sticky case of teacher competence. I sense that a witchhunt has been conducted behind closed doors and with indecent haste.
How can this happen?
This can happen as a result of new rules that stem from the 2002 Education Act. They were intended to make governors' work more streamlined and businesslike, but only if the governing body opted to use this new framework. I felt that the new rules were open to manipulation and could endanger shared authority and accountability. Most decisions can now be delegated. Exceptions include the closure or change of character of a school, the final endorsement in the appointment of a head or deputy, first-of-the-year approval of budget proposals, admissions and admissions policies, and final decisions on pupil exclusions.
Appointment and dismissal of teachers are part of the new framework, but the rules state that there must be appeal procedures. Note this in relation to your case. Check that you agreed to the arrangement. I hope the teacher concerned has union support, and that the local education authority will work closely with the case. This is crucial as the LEA will accept the costs of a successful tribunal appeal only if the school has acted in line with its advice.
You will appoint a chair this term. Make sure that the chosen governor supports broad participation in decisions and does not advocate a closed-doors culture. You can appoint for one, two, three or four years.
Think hard about delegation - to individuals or committees. Remember that no one can force you to delegate anything - even if the government steer on staffing matters is strong - and you must have a quorum of 50 per cent for all decisions.
You will also review your committee structure and powers, so make sure everyone understands the implications of delegation and that you have a balance of interests on committees and for all tasks. When you do delegate decisions, be vigilant and ask questions. Don't overdo it and make your work cumbersome and indecisive. Remember that giving away power is a big decision - and it is your decision. The new arrangements should work well with a governing body if all members are well-informed and active and there are no over-powerful personalities. Unfortunately, governing bodies are not always so blessed.
The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, 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. 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.ukgovernorsask_the_expert