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Joan sallis answers governors' questions. Our headteacher has been off sick quite a lot in the past year and we have just heard that he is to take early retirement on health grounds. It is almost inevitable that the senior deputy who had very long service in the school becomes acting head while we set about the business of advertising the post.

I am assuming that this deputy will apply, and as chair I am already getting anxious about the probability that we shall appoint from outside and thinking how we can cope with the possible disappointment of this woman. She has served the school so faithfully and it will probably be her last chance of a headship. It really does seem cruel though I think we all feel that the school needs a fresh face. Can you give us any guidance?

You are jumping a lot of fences before you come to them. Often people like the woman you describe are very happy to keep the school on a steady course during the interregnum but are realistic enough to know that it needs a change. She may not even apply, and if she does you may be surprised how well she performs or, alternatively, how professionally she accepts not being appointed, if that is the outcome.

Try to do your preparatory work without putting faces to imaginary candidates. Look honestly at the needs of the school as you can see them and complete your job description and person specification accordingly.

Give your teacher governor(s), even if one is on the selection panel, an early opportunity to tell the panel what sort of qualities the staff think most important.

Come back to your criteria at every stage of the process and apply them consistently to each candidate.

The main thing is not to have too many preconceptions.

If you honestly think that enthusiasm and new ideas are the main requirements of the school at this stage of its development don't be afraid to say so, and give every candidate the best opportunity you can to meet these requirements.

Finally it's worth saying that governors are often criticised for going for the safe option, and I am always being told that the deputy from the school is more likely to get the job than in the old days when the local education authority was involved. I am in no position to say how true this is, but it may help to put your dilemma in context.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200.

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