Joan Sallis answers your questions

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Our headteacher is clearly more in tune with four or five governors (out of about 20) than the rest. He regularly makes opportunities for one or more of them to discuss particular issues with him and this seems to make it easier for him to get his own point of view across when governors meet.

I suppose it is partly that they are very intelligent or experienced or have particular knowledge, and I truly don't think they have any motive except to support the school. Their influence is good and we all respect their skills, but the rest of us sometimes feel unnecessary. Sometimes it seems a waste of time to meet, as though we were merely rubber stamps, and this isn't healthy. Have you any advice?

What you say in your first sentence is true of most of us - in any group there are always people we find easier to talk to. But in a headteacher it isn't a mark of good leadership, and anything which devalues the contributions of most of a group is dangerous. In a governing body it is particularly so, because it is corporately empowered to make certain decisions and those are the only legal decisions. If they are not made with the conscious endorsement of all they may not be robust. I would guess that perhaps your head does not feel entirely secure and that he needs the prior support of able people. If so, maybe the whole governing body needs to show support more publicly.

I assume that these people don't have any formal role, that they are not committee chairs, who often do meet informally to draw things together.

That can be good provided everything is shared with their groups, and it has a legitimacy which purely ad hoc consultation doesn't. Also such meetings would be summed up in an informal note which underlines that legitimacy - every relevant conversation outside the governing body should be recorded. Perhaps you need to look at your committees and make sure they function and are active. You also want to make sure that you get a clear note about any matter requiring a decision, to formalise it. But you don't want to use a sledgehammer on the problem because, as you say, there is no conscious desire to bypass the majority.

Your chair has a key role - I would think she must be one of this group.

Either way, have a friendly word and ask whether she can make sure that a small group doesn't appear to usurp the decision-making role.

Encourage shyer members of the governing body to ask more questions, make a contribution and take on the occasional small task, researching or recording something.

Do what you can to get items discussed more fully at meetings, and if any are complicated suggest that a small elected group chews them over first.

It may continue to be dominated by your bright group but it will be legitimate and open. Encourage occasional opportunities for less formal social contact among governors and make sure these occasions are open to all - a few more than the present favoured group will surely show that they have special contributions to make too in a favourable setting.

What would be ideal is a recognition by one of the head's special friends of the need to open things up. I doubt whether they are motivated by anything more than a natural enjoyment of being valued and listened to.

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 where answers will appear

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