Live issue

10th January 2003 at 00:00
Answers your questions

This may seem minor compared with the troubles some schools get into, but upsets our work none the less.

This is a Church of England primary school, quite big, drawing families from a number of villages and a country town, and, like the governor I am writing about, not all church members.

The vicar is chairman (I wonder if this is ideal sometimes - does he have to be?), a lovely man, very sensitive, and the head is new, very up-to-date and brisk, perhaps not as governor-friendly as some but then she is dynamic, even forceful, in what she wants to do and perhaps finds having to discuss everything with us simple country people tedious.

She knows I am writing. The problem is a new parent governor from town, a solicitor and high-powered, well-informed, wonderful really, who asks very challenging questions about standards, methods, especially the time spent on church-related activities, but also discipline and all sorts.

It is a new factor, and the chairman gets very uptight and, for him, quite aggressive, mainly I think because he is afraid to upset the head who in fact copes well and shows no sign of feeling threatened.

But the chair keeps asking me (a foundation member) whether there is any disciplinary procedure for cases like this.

Simple answers first. There is no rule that says the vicar or priest has to be chair, though a few still think so. It is less common now because of the workload. The governing body decides, though it is not easy to initiate change if the person wants the role and can anyway be the natural choice.

You sound as if you can talk to him easily and perhaps you could find out if he would be relieved to move a bit further from this irritant, as he sees it. Would you be willing to stand?

Secondly, no, there is no way of removing an elected governor and why should you in this case? Perhaps the rest of you accept things rather too easily and a bit of challenge is proving good for the mix, but possibly you need some firmer chairing as well. If necessary, try to get the new governor to soften her style and encourage others to participate more.

It could also well be - I say this because it is a voluntary-aided school serving a wide area - that there are quite a few families who are not committed church-goers and you did just hint that the degree of closeness with the church could be an issue, prompting your new governor to ask that question. She may well speak for others.

That needs careful handling and trying to suppress the feeling does not help. It could otherwise provoke a more damaging and divisive challenge to the chair than the soft approach I have suggested.

A governing body's strength is in the mix and it is not a good group which finds it so hard to accommodate a questioning newcomer. Your head seems to be coping with it and no doubt could accept rather more knockabout discussion all round which could be very healthy.

Could you really say that before your new colleague arrived you were doing your job of strategic direction, involving free debate on options for development? Maybe this is something you need to think about.

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 0171 782 32023205, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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