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Joan Sallis Answers your questions

I am head of a large, tough comprehensive. My governors are pressing me to disclose staff absences. Some of my staff find the job stressful and get run down but I don't want to make it harder by harrying them. Am I within my rights to refuse to provide this information?

When I was a member of a governing body, we had a co-opted governor who was a human resources manager in business and who was shocked that we didn't have a formal system for discussing staff absence. The staff governors looked equally shocked by the suggestion that we should. It is now more common for this to be an accepted part of governors' monitoring role.

At the very least I would think the overall level of absence should be part of the head's regular report to governors, with no intention of highlighting individuals who had been unfortunate enough to have a lot of sickness, and not in any punitive spirit either, unless the head thought there was a problem which needed attention. The job is stressful and teachers work very hard. Infections are also passed round more easily than in other workplaces. But the governing body must function as employer and this is a normal part of management information from which one can learn a great deal.

Figures by department can highlight general problems which may need to be addressed (like staffing levels and organisation of ability groups). It does not take a genius to expect higher levels in departments where recruitment in the subject areas is particularly difficult. Even movements in total levels, as long as one makes allowances for any obvious contributory factors, can be informative. Areas which are in management control (like timetables and organisation of students) may make a difference.

A head, deputy or departmental head may interview staff returning after absence to bring to light any problems arising from the job andor are within management's power to alleviate. I also think it is good for head and governors to discuss and have open policies on compassionate leave, attitude towards staff response to their children's illnesses, and so on.

More openness about sickness absence can be a positive force for school improvement and staff well-being, and may even lead to helpful thinking about school and LEA policies.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see www.tes.co.uk governorsask_ the_expert where answers to submitted questions will appear

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