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Question: Ours is a very experienced and honest governing body. The relationships are such that we could come out against something the head wanted if we genuinely thought it was wrong, and where we support her she knows it is support worth having. She's been having a difficult time recently because of staff problems. In all this she has really valued us and you can guess governors think highly of her.

A proposal has come up which is nothing to do with the rest of the problems and the head is dead against it. I think it is just because she is under stress, has had enough controversy for a while and has negative feelings about anything which is a lot of work and not essential. We've talked among ourselves and all think she's wrong, but the older governors want to back the head in consideration of her difficulties. I'm not sure.

Answer: I have met this situation quite a few times. It is difficult and I don't think you can generalise. It depends on the issue. In no circumstances should you perpetuate an injustice or neglect an unreturning opportunity to make a major advance in the school. But there will be many instances where in the long view a yes or no to whatever it is will not make a great deal of difference, and I would always say then that looking after a good head who in major matters values your honest views is the priority. If nobody will be damaged, and no big opportunity lost, I'd agree with your experienced colleagues. If there is one who knows her well enough there might be a moment later when that governor could say in private: "We actually all thought that idea was worth pursuing, but we backed you because we know how hard things have been."

Question: In this comprehensive we have always had mixed ability groups for everything except science and French. Now, under pressure to improve our exam results, the staff want to introduce setting in English and maths. The proposal hasn't been brought to governors or discussed with parents and the parent governors think there will be trouble. The head says it is an internal matter of curriculum delivery. Is this really so?

Answer: Your head is unwise. Yes, it is an internal management matter but of such strategic importance and potential source of opposition that I would say it came well within governors' general responsibility for the conduct of the school and its relationship with their community.

As a rule of thumb in grey areas the possibility of parents or the community getting stirred up by something brings it over the borderline. Parents are certainly going to be concerned if students are to be with different classmates and perhaps teachers, and some may feel that prospectus information has not been honoured. A good school would talk it through with them before September. If governors know the reasons and potential benefits they can be good ambassadors.

Governors can also warn their school that something proposed will need careful selling to the customers and this is a valuable role. A good rule is: if there is doubt, treat the issue as one for shared decision.

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