Oddball bodies

4th November 2005 at 00:00
David Sassoon clerks for governors and clocks their peculiarities.

They come in all shapes and sizes - tall, short, large, small, heavy, light, sightly, ungainly and, dare I say, sometimes grotesque. They have a wide variety of characteristics that attract and repel and a host of peccadilloes that ensures that for someone like me, who is clerk to a number of governing bodies, life is never dull.

In my experience, most governors are in the business to make a positive difference to their schools. However, some unfortunately have a negative impact. I have tried hard to classify governors according to their characteristics, but failed miserably. No doubt, an erudite academic will succeed one day. But, in broad terms, a governing body will have four "types": The proposer: full of ideas and is anxious to stamp her or his imprimatur on the school.

The opposer: gets an "Eeyore" kick out of pointing out that the glass is always half empty, picking out the flaws in arguments and proposed projects.

The supporter: their backing is sought by both the proposer and opposer so as to cement a power base.

The bystander: has packed it in some time ago, maybe because of a traumatic experience with fellow humans who refused to give them space to contribute or censured them for daring to suggest something stupid.

There is merit in governors at varying times playing the roles of the first three categories. Opposers can make significant contributions by challenging the norm and supporters are always in demand.

Good governing bodies, however, will be doing something about their bystanders to ensure that they attend sufficient meetings to continue as governors or, failing that, send apologies, which are accepted by their fellow governors, so that they are not disqualified for non-attendance.

One particular "bystanding" governor who was excessively fond of the bottle and had very little blood in his alcohol stream received an early warning when he had a heart attack that caused him to give up drink. He has since begun to contribute to the governing body in a more meaningful way. But this was an extreme example and involved an intervention from higher up.

But what of the other characteristics worth mentioning? Here are a random few.

* The hardworking chair of governors of a voluntary-aided primary school situated in a half-asleep education authority. He really did make a difference to his school. However, he met some stern opposition to some of the plans he wished to steam-roller through. The upshot? He took the executive decision not to have teacher, staff and parent governors because of their nuisance value. The result? The school was left with an emasculated governing body that became the stooge of the chair. It was only after the new headteacher put his foot down that matters changed, elections for these groups were held and representatives found.

* Another chair of governors, eager to encourage participation in a focused manner so that meetings ended before midnight, started every meeting saying that a guillotine would be set for 9.30pm (the meetings began at 6.30pm).

But no matter how much she tried, discussions dragged on.

* Getting things done is all about the work of the governing body. Several governors promise the earth but do they deliver? Some come up with ideas which they find impossible to put into practice. So action points remain action points.

* Others are full of ideas and care deeply about their schools. However, they find it difficult to involve themselves practically. To salve their consciences, they send a stream of incisive questions to the headteacher or clerk and seek answers that generate needless work. And they feel better for it.

* There are those who identify problems, find solutions and see projects to fruition. However, thirsting for the acclaim of fellow governors, they "bore the pants" off them by describing in minute detail everything done to achieve what was achieved.

* Some governors vote on complex matters with little or no discussion. For instance, if a decision has to be made on spending pound;3 million on a building project, there is little or no debate. However, on trivia, they take an inordinate amount of time to come to any conclusion - for example, the case for spending pound;100 on curricular materials.

* Another class of governors is censorious of others' sins of omissions and commission, but hate it when they are judged similarly.

A positive side to clerking is that one can view the scene dispassionately.

But this is more difficult when the clerk has to manage the governors'

peccadilloes and convert them into stepping stones of development for the school.

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