Agenda

Joan Sallis Answers your questions

AS a chair of governors, my belief is that no financial wizardry, organisational gimmicks or even mission statements have as much effect on standards as talented, hard-working teachers. But there seems to be a determination to hang on to the real action and ignore comments and questions of governors, never mind parents.

We know where the inadequate teachers are and how reluctant anyone is to face it. How can we make a difference?

I do not think anyone - teachers or governors - would disagree that ensuring teaching quality is the most important task of school management. You will also strike chords in your frustration about professional defensiveness and your scepticism about many things governors are encouraged to spend their time on, when they sometimes long to be able to say the unsayable.

But I cannot go with you all the way. First, the process of routinely developing, encouraging and chastising teachers is a skilled task and we are not trained for it, paid for it, or liable for doing it badly. Nor can it be subjected to a whole range of uncoordinated comment. There are dangers to natural justice when so many people have exchanged views about a teacher that he or she has no hope of a fair appeal in the event of a disciplinary or competency hearing.

The tools we have are levers rather than hammers. They can alter things from a long way off if well used. Governors must make sure they select the right senior staff, and create a good framework for measuring and promoting improvement - including analysis, target-setting, and performance and pay systems.

There are other ways of influencing teachers: spending time in classes; publicly appreciating their skills; even noticing whether there are comfortable chairs in the staffroom. To me the worst threat at present is the proposed removal of our involvement in teacher appointments, and I wonder how long we shall have to wait for second thoughts on this.

Please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to help all readers and always protect their identity. Questions should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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