YASMIN QURESHI TALKS TO REVA KLEIN. Yasmin Qureshi was born in Pakistan and came to this country at the age of nine. Thirteen years later, she qualified as a barrister. She works for the Government Legal Services and as a volunteer at Southall Law Centre. She has been a co-opted governor of Laurence Hains JMI School in Watford for nine years and of West Hertfordshire College for five. At both, she is the only non-white governor. A member of the Labour party, she has future parliamentary aspirations. Yasmin lives in Watford with her sister, who is also a barrister, and her mother.
Why did you become a governor?
It was soon after I had qualified. Because people think that you know everything about everything when you're a barrister, a woman came and talked to me about her child's problems at school. That conversation made me think that schools need different kinds of people to make them better places, to offer an understanding of pupils from different cultures and backgrounds. I thought that maybe I could help give insights and bring new ideas.
What is the most important contribution you bring to governing?
I give free legal advice and expertise as well as offer feedback from the Asian and black communities. I also deal with Section 11 funding and campaign for it. In the school, I help parents by acting as an intermediary when required. I help get people to look for compromises and find solutions.
What do you enjoy least?
When I have to get involved in disciplinary matters involving students, teachers or support staff. It can be really horrible.
I try to keep away from it but they all want my legal input.
What do you enjoy most?
I like meeting students and teachers. That's the fun part of it - talking, showing your face.
If you could change something about governing, what would it be?
Governing bodies should have people coming in from different backgrounds in terms of age, gender and colour. They need to be more representative of the community. For instance, I wish there was a greater realisation of the importance of Section 11 and in bilingual children getting their English sorted out in the early stages of their schooling.
My comprehensive put me into the lowest stream because I didn't speak English well at the beginning and they tried to insist that I was incapable of going for O-levels. If it hadn't been for my supportive parents, the system would have failed me.
Would you consider standing down?
If I ever thought that the college had taken a direction that I thought was wrong, or if we were asked to make unbearably difficult decisions because of external pressures, I might think about leaving.
So far, we've been able to compromise over issues like making teachers redundant in order to balance the books.
The pressure is to replace experienced with more junior teaching staff but in the end, education suffers.
What would make governing easier?
Having no financial restrictions.
What is the most important role of governors?
They bring their experiences to their school or college, their expertise and knowledge from the outside. And they bring a degree of independence.
What must governors always do?
They must always be impartial and ensure that they keep paramount the concern for pupils and staff.
What must they never do?
Politicise issues because it alienates those who don't share your views. Raising point-scoring issues doesn't help anyone in the long run - it just gets up people's noses. They must keep to an education perspective of what's best for children and staff.
Is there a responsibility governors have that they shouldn't?
My concern is - how many of us are going to be effective in carrying out the powers we've been given? We're on our own now.