You get the governors you deserve;Books

11th June 1999 at 01:00
MANAGING BETTER WITH GOVERNORS: a practical guide to working together for school success. By Joan Sallis. Financial Times Management pound;69.

You might assume that, like much of Joan Sallis's previous writing, this book would be aimed at governors. In fact, it is intended mainly for headteachers. Reading it from a governor's perspective is rather like a prize Aberdeen Angus assessing a manual on slaughterhouse management.

Joan Sallis returns here to the theme of an earlier book, Building the Partnership, in which she says that schools and headteachers get the governors they deserve. She reports being angered at a conference by a headteacher complaining that her governors knew nothing about the education system, the school or their role. She would never speak about her staff like that, says Sallis, because that would be a reflection on her professional ability to manage and develop her team.

The difference may be that the headteacher selects her own staff - whereas governors are thrust upon her.

However, governors are here to stay and Joan Sallis, with her usual positive vision, sets out to show how they can be an asset to a school rather than just another problem for overworked heads. She presents a tried and tested model training day for groups of heads and governors to explore their expectations of each other. As most governing bodies acquire new members in September, this is an excellent time to review our expectations and performance.

Sallis defends the role of the lay governor and rejects the view held by some heads and teachers that challenge is only acceptable if it is based on an equal or greater expertise than your own. Perhaps a more difficult problem for headteachers is to integrate governors who do have greater expertise - in accountancy or personnel matters for example - into an educational context.

This manual sets out to show how the relationship between heads and governors can be strengthened and developed, good working practices established and boundaries defined. There is much sound advice about conduct of meetings, working through committees and good communication, although some of this seems to me, as a chair of governors, more my responsibility than the head's. Once the governing body is functioning successfully, recruitment and retention of good governors, Sallis says, should then almost take care of itself. "Most people have too much sense to join a dud show." The guides at the end of each section of the manual form a brief induction course for new recruits.

Governors, as Sallis demonstrates with practical examples, need to be involved in the decision-making process from the earliest possible stage. Decisions will be more robust "if they take into account from the beginning of the questions likely to be asked by the community served by the school"; and governors will be less likely to depart from their proper role. "Often it is the governing body which has never been allowed to do a real job which occupies itself with trivia."

Sallis looks forward to a time when headteachers' relationships with their governors will become the main determinant of excellence: "Heads should see the growth of an effective governing body as a measure of their own leadership skills." Many heads may feel that they would not wish to start from here, with long-serving governors, lack of trust between them and the teaching staff and entrenched bad practices; but the newly expanded governing bodies may provide opportunities for a fresh start.

For aspiring heads, this manual should be required reading. Remember, you may not always be able to choose your governors, but we do choose you.

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