Joan Sallis Answers your questions
I was interested in a recent answer you gave to a parent governor who wondered if she was a delegate, and how to act when she thought some vocal parents were working against the school's real interests. I am a local-authority governor but do not belong to a political party or take great interest in politics, and I am sometimes confused about whom I represent and whether I should be taking any particular line on local issues to reflect the LEA views - assuming I even knew them. My brother, who is a community governor in another LEA, is also puzzled. He is not a business representative or concerned with any distinct community activity, yet is a strong supporter of community needs and services. Who do we speak for and how can we discover where their interests lie?
This is an important question because practice has changed so much. In the early days of governance reform the old tradition of appointing councillors, or at least party members, to LEA seats was slow to change, and change was not uniform. Now in a minority of LEAs (mostly urban areas) there is still a political link or even at extremes a party share-out. But much more commonly (and more logically now schools run their own curriculum and budget), LEAs seek people with a broad interest in education and perhaps a good reputation in some form of worthwhile activity to take on this role. A similar but not identical process affected community governors, since under the early influence of local management of schools the Government was briefly very keen to bring in business experience, and it was for a time part of official guidance to seek someone from business to guide colleagues. This is no longer emphasised, though clearly such experience is still valued in many governing bodies.
If LEA governors are specifically appointed on party lines in the few areas where this still happens, they will naturally feel they would be wise to keep up-to-date with local council policies and be in a position to explain them. But even here case law has indicated that they are not delegates and cannot be removed for not toeing a line. Only if a council changes hands may party nominees possibly be removed because they are no longer representative, and even this is now rare. You would be well advised to be familiar with the kind of educational issues which are active in local politics but in general you are free to speak and vote as you feel is best for the school. One qualification: more than other governors you should keep an eye on the local schooling service as a whole and be careful to pick up where changes in your school's policies may be at the expense of other local schools - for instance catchment area changes or a form of pupil selection.
As for your brother, all sorts of people are now community governors, not delegates but citizens chosen for their experience and personal qualities.
The main work of all governors is to contribute to the efficiency, values, academic performance, and the values and moral standards of the school. But not being a delegate does not mean that a community governor does not take a distinctive stance compared with other categories of governor. The community governor should become as familiar as possible with other community activities which impinge on education. These governors are the ones to keep an eye on the interests of the elderly, the sick or lonely, the under-fives, the dog-walkers, the amenity groups, older students, etc, to all of whom the school should be a considerate neighbour. They may also consider how local groups can contribute something worth while to the school. Anything such governors can do to publicise the school's aims and achievements locally is also appropriate.
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. Send questions for Joan Sallis 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. Joan Sallis's column now appears on this page every three weeks: see more of her answers on the TES website. Joan has updated five of her booklets, each dealing with the role of a particular category of governor , (Parents, Staff, LEA, Community, and Faith Governors in Voluntary and Foundation Schools), and originally commissioned by Northamptonshire LEA.
They will be available from Adamson Publishing on 01353 648184, or via www.adamsonbooks.com.