Just call me the guv'nor

Published in the Daily Telegraph, 09Dec2006

Now that he’s on the school board, will power go to the head of James Trollope?

A is for Agenda: James Trollope and his son read up on the jargon that needs to be mastered by governorsFinally, a bit of status and respectability. Governor James Trollope. Can’t wait to slap it on the passport, especially for those transatlantic jaunts. Admittedly, the election result was far from overwhelming. If we’re going to be technical, there wasn’t a vote at all. But it’s not my fault that only two parents applied for the three vacant posts on the governing body of my daughter’s primary school. Surely I’ll still get my OBE after the four-year stint?

“What are you looking so smug about?” asks Katie’s mother, interrupting my breakfast reverie. “That’s no way to talk to a pillar of the community.” “Don’t forget it’s your turn for the school run.”

I consider protesting - such a mundane task is surely beneath my new gubernatorial station - but decide against it. “But what is a governor?” asks Katie, my daughter, as we trudge to school. “You know the three wise men? It’s a bit like them, only there are 18 of us and most are women.” “But what do you actually do?” “I’ll tell you later.”

To tell the truth, I’m finding A Guide to the Law for School Governors (200 pages plus annexes) rather heavy going. They have a way of expressing themselves at the Department for Education and Skills which would tax the sharpest code breaker. “Don’t forget to bring the SIP and SEF to tonight’s meeting,” says the school secretary cheerily. “And have you have signed the CRB consent form?”

I repeat the initials to myself as I dash home for the glossary. Of course: School Improvement Plan, Self Evaluation Form and Criminal Records Bureau. Get a grip, governor. So why accept a job with long hours and no pay, which requires mastery of a foreign language?

My main motivation was to help the school flourish and keep up with Katie in the classroom. Plus, if ever I’m convicted of a heinous crime, the “governor thing” might prove useful in mitigation. But it’s hardly surprising that half of head teachers find it difficult to fill their governor allocation, with 40,000 vacancies for voluntary governors in the UK.

Besides the full meetings, there are three committees to choose from, and the opportunity to monitor a particular subject. I’m keen to join the personnel body, to get to know the staff and have a say in recruitment.

At the first full meeting, there’s a warm reception for the two new parent governors (PG). The other PG is a mother of a girl in Katie’s year, whose well-thumbed governors’ folder puts me to shame. As we rattle through the agenda, I’m impressed by the head teacher’s grasp of a mindboggling array of subjects, from diet to digital technology. He even manages to make sense of a survey which found that while two teachers cycle to school, five cycle home. (Answer: three brought their bikes on the train.)

My main concern was to find out which committee the other newcomer fancied, as there was only one vacancy on personnel. Unfortunately, she appeared oblivious to my delicate inquiries.

“Right,” said the chairman at the end. “What about these committee vacancies?” “Given my extensive background in Human Relations, I think I could make a valuable contribution to Personnel,” said my new colleague. The chairman turned to me and said: “Which of the other two do you fancy?” As the choice was Premises (lavatories) or Finance (debt), it felt like being offered the electric chair or lethal injection. “I’ll let you know by email, chairman. Meanwhile, perhaps I could have first choice of monitoring subject?” “Fair enough. What’s it to be, Design Technology or PSHEC?” “PSHEC, please.”

Only after consulting the glossary did I discover what I had let myself in for. “Personal, Social and Health Education and Citizenship.” Do they mean sex and drugs? If so, that will do me. 
 Copyright © James Trollope 2006