Joan Sallis looks back at the successes and obstacles she experienced during a year as a primary school governor, and considers the one ahead

This article was written in July 2008. Read on to hear Joan Sallis’s reflection on that year as a governor at her primary school.

As we lie in the sun this summer we may find ourselves reminiscing about the ups and downs of another school year. It will exhaust me just to think about it this time as it is scarcely believable how much has changed in my primary school. It offers many lessons for the future – mainly, Be Prepared!

Two into one will go
The first big task was to amalgamate, in practical and permanent form, our junior school with its adjoining infants school as agreed before the year began. It is not unusual for this to be an option when opportunity arises, as there are fewer separate infants’ schools these days, so both early years curriculum continuity and teachers’ career progression may suffer.

Already a handful of teachers from both schools have taken the opportunity to get experience with the other age range and everything is humming. But there was a lot of consultation to do, especially with infants’ parents: ‘Will he still have his own peg?’ ‘Will they still have different playtimes and lunch times?’ You can imagine. It was hard work for all concerned but the buzz is now wonderful.

We are all aware, however, as we begin the new task of amalgamating our two governing bodies, that it is a very big primary school: 18 classes plus nursery, plus breakfast club, after school and holiday clubs, many recreational clubs, ASD unit (agreed but still to open and another big task to contemplate) – and a children’s centre. A big responsibility.

And two to come
Thanks to hard work by all, the amalgamated school was soon running smoothly. But before the year was far gone our dear head announced that she would retire at 60, which meant the end of the second term of the school year.

How could we ever replace her and especially how would we find the energy for it now, when our deputy had just got a headship? We decided – sensibly – not to go ahead with that replacement until a new head could share in the choice. We did appoint a head we were all completely whole-hearted about and, in time, a deputy who had been an Advanced Skills Teacher in the school for some years and was already considered by a big majority to be our strong right hand. In both appointments we had to consider first and foremost the most special thing about our school, which was its emphasis on creativity, empathy, social skills, health and emotional well-being, and we were united in being unwilling to appoint unless we were satisfied about these qualities in the candidate. We seriously wondered whether the world offered anything good enough. It was a bonding task.

Looking forward
It wouldn’t be like me to miss learning points with this big governor audience and if anyone this year has been on a steep learning curve it’s this governor here in front of this computer on a half term holiday.

Even after over 30 years as a governor I am shamed by how much I had to learn too fast. ‘What ifs’, ‘Why nots’, ‘How tos’. I ask myself lots of questions – in particular, how I would have spent last summer had I known what lay ahead.

For a start I’d have spent it thinking about what is most important in a school, how key players should interact and how to manage processes which don’t happen often. Things such as amalgamations, appointments and maintaining soundings in the community, where the lesson was not to think you can guess at all the things which will worry them (a big issue on amalgamation proved to be the height of the toilet seats!).

You needn’t move except to get in or out of the sun, or apply some more lotion, only let your imagination rove over possible events. Talking of sun, and especially of equal opportunities, I was quite shocked 30 years ago to find that none of us had thought about the sun in the afternoon, and its effect on candidate number three as it came round to our window.

In another case, far from home, was I ‘correct’ to find my heart race when it emerged that he spoke Welsh? He was rather engaging altogether and the head said to me: ‘You’d like to take him home wouldn’t you?’ I think she felt the same but we were both too smart to appoint him as his qualifications already betrayed a mis-spent youth.

We are experienced governors yet not prepared when some new and baffling situation hits us. We can’t go to a course on infant-junior amalgamations – too low a load factor – but we should miss no opportunity to think, if very young children are on our horizon, about homely things which could be very important and were important to us at that stage.

Above all I believe we should think deeply and long about the lasting features of a school which inspire us and make us proud. For me it would be – you already know don’t you – the mind-body-spirit balance of the curriculum (SATs notwithstanding), the consideration for children’s feelings, their relationships, their love of beauty, their unbridled enjoyment of being children which we try so hard to stifle, and their creativity.

You can’t get away lightly with idle reflections while sun-bathing and if you have gone a bit cold on governor training, do first look out next year for courses on equal opportunities.

You will be told about lots of aims and prohibitions that I sometimes find a bit silly but it is basically about fair decisions. You can go terribly wrong never having thought about a few more important ways to achieve equality – questions not to ask, questions to be sure to ask. Secondly, spend a lot of time on structured thinking (as distinct from sunny idling) on what is special about your school, what you’d lie in the road for and what will dictate any decisions you have to take part in, whether they affect staffing, curriculum, discipline or rules generally.

I hope it isn’t going to be SATs results or silence and that it will include encouragement to imagination, response to beauty and joy, thoughtfulness and empathy. There isn’t a course on that – yet.