I have just resigned from the governing body of a medium-sized primary school after eight years, the first six as chairman. I have worked with three heads, and was closely involved in the appointment of two of them. Now I have decided that all the time, energy and expertise that I have been committing to the school is wasted, because of the attitude of a forceful minority of the teaching staff.
Did I say expertise? Yes, I did. I and my fellow governors have worked hard to make the best of the 1988 legislation; to respect professionalism ; to encourage expertise; to establish a constructive dialogue; to learn by listening, watching, and asking the right questions; and to become more efficient. Our headteachers, whatever their private opinions on the role of governors, could hardly have done more to help us.
So, what has been lacking? An understanding by some of the teaching staff,including senior staff, that the respect and support which they expect should be reciprocated.
"It cannot be called a relationship between friends when one party carries the authority whereas the other has all the expertise," wrote Glennis Foote (The TES, November 8 1996). My understanding is that governors are critical friends of the school, not of the teachers as such, but what I want to question here is the labelling of governors as lacking expertise.
Yes, we may not be teachers but three of my fellow governors were former teachers and their experience seemed to have no effect in terms of wooing those members of staff who didn't want anything to do with governors. No, we don't lack expertise. We are highly accomplished governors, and teachers must acknowledge that this is a distinct field of expertise, with enormous potential value to the school.
We have attended many hours of training on what makes an effective school,the governors' role in the curriculum, the components of the national curriculum, Standard Assessment Tasks and assessment, teachers and the quality of teaching, OFSTED, the needs of gifted children, the formula budget and local management, school management planning, whole school pay policy, procedures for appointing staff and headteachers, handling emergencies and the media, staff disciplinary procedures, changes in the law, and so on. Now stand up, and be applauded, those teachers who have attended any training session on the role of their governing body.
Do I hear the cry: "But we work, they are only volunteers!" Well, I happen to have a job too and so does my husband, who is also a governor. Like thousands of other governors, we attend training and refresher courses in our own professional fields, but we also find the time and interest to attend training sessions for governors, as well as spending time in school, attending meetings.
I think teachers should "do as they would be done by". Start with respect for existing expertise and appreciation of good intentions; be willing to listen and learn, to talk and suggest, realise that governors, too, have undergone a period of rapidly changing expectations, ever-increasing demands, overwork and even a dose of media bashing.
If roles are to be defined, conduct to be codified, and training made compulsory for governors, then let us add the following: teacher governors should undertake training and regular updates on their specific role, and the whole school staff must have an annual training session, conducted by outside experts, on the role of the governing body.
Who knows, next Christmas the bottle of sherry or the tin of biscuits, and the formal letter of thanks, might even travel in the direction of the great unpaid.
Elizabeth Henshaw writes under a pseudonym and lives in Norfolk.