Joan Sallis answers your governors' questions

8th October 2004 at 01:00
I have been a governor for some time, almost as long as our current head, and I have worked in a local education authority. I am sure the head has exercised more unbridled power in the past few years. I think I am clear about demarcation and I am not talking about the many issues less experienced governors raise - how teachers teach, teacher quality, organisation of classes, choice of exam boards, etc. I support the professionals' right to make these decisions. The ones I am talking about are policy and budget issues, the decision to become specialist, to accept private finance, etc. In all these we have been ignored. It almost seems the head had become more confident because there is less pressure from above - or it had something to do with the leadership course he has been on.

I do think that there is less support in high places for the role of school governors and also that it may not get enough coverage in some leadership courses. It is difficult to pin it down but I pick up from my many contacts that some heads are less constrained than they used to be by the democratic provisions of the law. I am writing a piece for The TES about this situation, but meanwhile do share your views with your chair. Also, before you meet to discuss an issue which obviously does require governors'

support and if necessary a vote, prepare yourself thoroughly and see if you can get some support. Do not be put off too easily from seeking a proper discussion. If you have a sympathetic attached inspector or governor services manager, they might like to hear your view too, because the authority should be watchful about governors' role being honoured. It is only fair to add that in some decisions schools have had to make, (a) the steer from the Government to go for it has been very strong, (b) there has not always been a satisfactory alternative answer the school could give without loss of funds and improvements. That's part of the problem.

I am a very new parent governor. When I put myself forward for election I mentioned a lot of problems I would raise if elected, things of great importance to parents, who do not feel very well served here in getting individual problems sorted. In only a few weeks and one meeting yesterday I realised how difficult this is going to be because it doesn't seem to be expected either by the head or chair and there is no provision for it on the agenda.

You must start with a clear understanding of your role. Thousands before you must have come unstuck, when new, on some of the issues they feel they were elected to take up. First, if there is a general matter about which very many parents are concerned and which is within governors' remit, you must first get it on the agenda. Second, you may be able to join with other parent governors in asking for a short item on every agenda for parent governors to bring up matters of general concern. What you must not do is to use your position to air problems concerning one child or family.

Governors only deal with policy matters and you must encourage parents to approach the school themselves with purely individual concerns.

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