Joan Sallis

What can governors do about bullying of staff? Our head is a strong character and can't stand weakness, and when she takes a dislike to someone she is cruel and, in my view, unprofessional.

The current victim is new and lacks confidence, but she is good with the children and will make an excellent teacher. The head told a few of us that she doesn't intend to put up with this teacher much longer, and criticises her in front of colleagues and classes.

Surely she can't get rid of a teacher just like that? What is our position? Is there anything we can do to stave off a crisis? The teacher has told other staff members that she is unhappy.

There seems no excuse for this behaviour, but you have to accept that you might not know all the facts.

Under current law only governors can dismiss a teacher, and then only after a disciplinary panel of governors, elected by the governing body, has been entrusted with the task and thoroughly and fairly investigated the problem.

On the other hand, the head is usually the one who instigates such a procedure and you obviously don't want it to get to that stage. Unless and until this formal stage is reached I'm afraid the management, development and discipline of staff is the head's job. Your personnel committee is entitled to ask for general information about the support available to develop and assist newly appointed teachers, because we do have a responsibility at strategic level for professional development. Otherwise, unless your head's behaviour is so bad that you feel that she herself merits some kind of disciplinary process, or the teacher herself decides it is bad enough to warrant a grievance procedure (which would again be judged by a governors' panel) there is no role for governors.

But at a less formal level, the chair or any other governor with a reasonably close relationship with the head, or with a deputy or other senior staff member who might have an influence with her, might raise the issue gently. Your attached inspector from the local education authority might be another possible go-between. Your head possibly needs protection against herself.

It isn't always wise to encourage a disaffected teacher to confide in governors too much and raise unrealistic hopes. Teachers with serious problems can always talk to a line manager or senior colleague, consult their union representative or instigate a grievance process.

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Joan Sallis

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