Terry Mahoney explains how to defrost the iciness that can greet new governors. At the end of the first session of a new governors' induction course Mrs A hovers, nervously waiting to speak privately to the tutor. She is agitated and near to tears. "From what I've learned tonight, I think I ought to resign," she whispers. "There's no way my governing body will let me make the kind of contribution you outline." She explains that her governing body is "frosty": no other governor, nor headteacher, had even spoken to her.
It seems governing bodies can be unwelcoming to new members. Whether it is because they are suspicious of "outsiders", or just too preoccupied to think about it, welcoming the 60,000 new governors expected to be recruited next term ought to be one of their most important tasks. Investing time now in an induction plan will pay dividends. Waiting until the new governors' first meeting of the autumn term is too late: some may already be put off or have developed inappropriate views of their role.
The governing body's action plan should start before new governors are in place. You should assemble an information pack for them. This needs to include the following key documents: A Department for Education and Employment Governors' Guide to the Law, the instrument and articles of the school, a governors' meeting file, weeded of bumpf. Then add a school prospectus, most recent governors' annual parents' report, local education authority governor training programme and newsletter, and your welcoming letter.
Ensure that on appointment, election or co-option, the new governor receives this pack. It shows that some attention has been paid to their arrival. But take care not to overwhelm them with printed information.
Invite them to visit the school during the working day. Some headteachers prefer to conduct the visit alone, others involve the chair or a governor designated as a mentor for recruits. This is the time to introduce the new governor to staff and pupils. Forearmed with the pack, the new governor should be fairly well acquainted with the challenges ahead.
Encourage experienced governors to assume the role of mentor with whom you can pair recruits. The mentor should see them before the next governors' meeting and explain how the governing body works: its committee structure; who's who and their role.
The mentor should ascertain what skills and experience the recruit has, exploring possible contributions. Deal with any questions. Emphasise that governors are not delegates of the appointing or electing body. Their main purpose is to serve the interests of the children and school by representing a perspective from their section of the community.
Many find their first governors' meeting daunting. The mentor should introduce them to the other members. Before the meeting starts, the chair should also welcome them. Name cards add a nice touch, developing a sense of team membership.
Every governing body has its own culture and the induction process is a way of explaining how you "do things round here". This helps to avoid mistakes like unannounced visits to the school, breaking confidentiality and go-it-aloners who fail to understand the nature of corporate influence and power.
This is the time to share your expectations of the commitment needed to do the job. This may already be enshrined in your code of conduct.
Explain your governor training policy. If the LEA has an induction course, new members must go on it. It gives them the chance to meet others in the same boat and they can ask "naive" questions in an neutral setting. These courses also show that your governing body belongs to a wider system and that training is an ongoing commitment.
Tap into your LEA governor support services. Resource centres, distance-learning materials, helplines and governor networks will complement your induction plan.
Finally, do not give new governors inappropriate jobs, such as link governor or committee chair, except on rare occasions. All governors need to grow into the role, to develop as good team players.
A well-considered induction process is an investment. The pay-off should be governors warmed up and raring to go rather than distraught like Mrs A.
Action for Governors Information and Training publishes a Do-it-better guide Finding and Keeping Governors available from AGIT, Lyng Hall, Blackberry Lane, Coventry, CV2 3JS (01203 638679) price Pounds 15 for 15 copies. n The National Association of Governors and Managers paper No 32 The New Governor is available from NAGM, 21 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5QP (0121 643 5787) price Pounds 1.75
CHECKLIST FOR RECRUITS
Information packs for new governors should include: * A list of members of the governing body.
* The school's instrument and articles of government.
* The Department for Education and Employment's Governors Guide to the Law.
* Committee membership and terms of reference.
* Minutes of the last governors' meeting.
* A calendar of governing body meetings and school events.
* A list of staff and responsibilities.
* A plan of the school.
* The school prospectus.
* The development plan.
* Last governors' annual report.
* School inspection reports.
* All policies adopted by the governing body.