Joan Sallis


The previous head of our primary school was not in her later years effective or popular, but she is rapidly coming to be remembered as a saint! We have appointed an excellent new head who has introduced a lot of (mostly) necessary changes. She has also upset some time-honoured practices. In the majority of cases action was long overdue, but she may have gone a bit too far here and there. The teachers have reacted badly and there is a mood of sullen resistance, which is souring relationships and even getting through to parents. The unions have been brought in on a few issues. What line should the governors take?


The governors' role is vital in containing the crisis - and it is a crisis - though it's not always easy to see a way forward.

I do not support the policy of our-head-right-or-wrong, and in some cases governors' role may be to protect the teachers. It all depends on the issues in dispute. But if you believe that on the issues your head is acting in the interests of the pupils you must support her unequivocally and visibly. Teachers should have no doubt where you stand. This will be all the more effective (and if she is as good as you think she is your head will appreciate and respond to this) if now and then you try to stay the head's hand in a case where she is being unreasonable.

A few bits of advice on matters of detail. First, however hard it may be, discourage teachers who attempt to nobble governors individually. They will see it as a vital intelligence service to acquaint governors with the real state of affairs in the school, but it is nearly always counter-productive. Remind these informants that they have more than one legitimate route to redress: in an internal matter through line management, through the school's own consultative structures, and in the last resort grievance procedures, and in a policy matter to governors through their teacher governors.

Second, use these teacher governors yourselves. They will know they have a duty to bring teacher concerns to you, but less often are they alert to the duty to interpret and loyally promote the corporate policies of the governing body. Ensure that they are asked to do their stuff when teacher opposition to all change is unreasonable.

Third, minute any major concerns clearly and ask that the paragraph(s) in question be brought to the notice of all staff. Stress in such messages that whole-school interests are being damaged, which in the end means teachers' interests, and try to turn the mirror on their actions.

Finally, demonstrate your good feelings towards teachers in visible ways. Remember to praise any beyond-the-call-of-duty efforts. Take an interest in their working conditions and welfare. Ensure that decisions that affect them are made openly and fairly, and consult them freely. Organise the odd social event. Remember, if all else fails, that a whole-school project which involves every single adult and child in the school community can work wonders.

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Joan Sallis

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