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Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

I am a teacher governor in a big comprehensive that is about to advertise for a new head. We have had a good head for many years and, knowing what a vital part he or she plays, the staff want as much involvement as possible.

My fellow teacher governor is on the panel, but how can we be sure the choice is right, especially from the staff point of view? I was dismayed to hear that although we were to meet the candidates at lunch, there would be no opportunity for feedback from more prolonged visits to the school or any other activity that would enable more teachers to give their opinions. The LEA and the chair seem to be against this. Surely our opinion matters?

Yes, it's the most important governors' task. I am glad you have a representative on the panel; it has to be a manageable size and it isn't always possible to get a balance. These days - because the penalties for doing anything that could be construed as unfair are so savage - governors are cautious about what additional experiences and tests they introduce.

The previous head is legally banned from involvement, as is anyone who would benefit from a particular choice. But there are ways to broaden the process. Some governors arrange psychometric testing. Some organise groups of students and staff to interact with candidates under the supervision of the panel or other governors reporting to the panel. Another possibility is a discussion between candidates, observed by the whole panel. We recently appointed a head and did all of these.

Such activities are based on giving all candidates the same experience, as far as possible: the same subject or area of discussion, the same participating groups, the same time, the same conditions. I have always been against listening to reports from unstructured and unsupervised visits to the school, because there is no way they can be comparable between candidates. It is so easy to pick up subjective, slanted or misunderstood impressions. If anyone complained about the outcome, the school could be in trouble. Structure, comparability and objectivity are the keywords. Your colleague on the panel may pick up some ideas from this selection and I hope the staff will trust him or her to contribute to a good choice.

A compilation of Joan Sallis's columns has been published in Questions School Governors Ask. Copies are available at pound;7.95 from the TES bookshop: call 0870 4448633 or see www.tes.co.ukbookshop. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Fax 020 7782 3202, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert where answers to the submitted questions will appear

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