Should I stay or should I go?

12th September 1997 at 01:00
The first decision to be made by the governing body at its autumn term meeting is who will be its chair. Several questions present themselves. Do I want to stand for another year? Do the other governors want me to? Would they dare to tell me if they didn't?

When I was involved in drawing up the constitution of our county governors' association I insisted on the inclusion of a clause preventing anyone from holding an office for more than three consecutive years. I had accidentally drifted into the post of secretary - all I said was "Is any one taking minutes?" - and I know how easy it is to get stuck with the thankless jobs of secretary or treasurer for life. I felt the chair should change regularly too. Any office-holder, however good, brings his or her personal skills, style and perspective to the post. Fresh ideas, a change of emphasis, a new influx of energy and ideas are good for any organisation. If a regular change is mandatory, rather than achievable only by insurrection, it is more likely that the retiring chair will feel able to stay to lend experience and support to the new team.

Perhaps this principle should apply to governing bodies too. I know of chairs, often local councillors or the vicar, who have held the post for 20 years or more. No one likes to tell them they are long past their sell-by date, that they block progress or that they discourage debate. I don't want to end up like that. On the other hand, I don't think I want to give it up just yet either.

If I do volunteer to stand down at the next meeting I will be met with cries of "But you are such a good chair - no one else could do what you do." But of course a successor would not need to. I would still go on doing the things I am good at: writing the annual reports, reviewing policies, collating and analysing the survey of parents. A new chair might want to concentrate on other aspects, spend more time in the classroom, seek out new sources of funding and sponsorship, develop more social contacts between staff governors and parents. Perhaps what we should be concentrating on is drawing up a governors' development plan which allows everyone to contribute according to their particular skills and interests. I hope my colleagues do not feel they have to wait for their turn as chair to suggest changes.

Part of the reason no one else wants to be chair is the time commitment. Reading, collating and summarising the vast amount of correspondence is a huge job. Then there are LEA meetings, consultations with the head, clerk and vice-chair, telephone calls, contact with staff and parents. I have had to give up many of my activities to fit it all in: playgroup committee, adult literacy support, charity fund-raising, housework.

But I do value my special relationship with the head. Like an old married couple, we have been through a lot together. Themutual trust and respect we have built up mean we can challenge each other's ideas and ask the difficult questions while presenting a supportive and united front to the rest of the world. I think she would be almost as upset if I deserted her as my husband would be if I left him. Perhaps I will do at least one more year. OFSTED is coming in February - how could I possibly leave her at a time like this?

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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