Joan Sallis Answers your questions

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
In a small primary school where I previously served as a parent governor our caretaker was an LEA appointee. This seemed natural as the caretaker's role is so important. In my older children's comprehensive the only non-teacher staff governor is the information technology manager who is a highly-paid and educated technician. It seems a pity to me not to have someone in touch with the support staff. But what bothers me is that as a parent governor of my youngest child's primary (in a different LEA) we have a permanent vacancy for a support staff member even though it is a large school with 16 governors because no support staff candidate could be persuaded to stand.

I agree that it is important to have support staff represented. In your last school the caretaker would have been appointed by the LEA before the rules were changed to prevent school employees being over-represented. In some parts of the country there were thought to be too many governors being appointed by the LEA or co-opted, sometimes inhibiting difficult decisions. Teachers and support staff cannot now even be parent governors in the school where they are employed nor can they be LEA or co-opted members. Their reluctance to come forward for election could be because all staff vote for both support staff and teacher member. There is an option to go back to having only the support staff elect their own representative, but you would have to get your LEA to consider this.

I should also point out that if, like yours, a school with 13 or more governors fails to recruit a support staff governor it can fill the vacancy with another elected teacher.

But the rules are not the only problem. Class raises its ugly head everywhere, and it matters how support staff are treated and what messages they receive about their relative worth. When I was doing some training for the then new support staff governors I was upset by how they were sometimes treated. Where all employees feel equally important and support staff are regularly told how valuable their representation is, there won't so often be vacancies, governors benefit from a different view of the school and the children, and may identify issues they were not aware of before.

Governors all have an obligation to reduce the formality as much as possible, for the benefit not just of support staff but of all those members who don't work in education or serve on committees in their working or private lives. Obviously, we are obliged to work within the rules, which in themselves often ensure equal valuation, but there is no need to use language which is difficult for most people. If you achieve representation for support staff, make sure that they feel welcome, respected and free enough to make their contribution.

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 where answers will appear

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