Decision made in ignorance

Janette Owen

Governors are often described as the "critical friends" of a school. This week, I feel I've gone from being an enthusiastic acquaintance to public enemy number one in the space of two days and two very different meetings at my school.

The first, to shortlist for the position of deputy head, was a masterclass in educational management. Queries were answered efficiently; any doubts we three governors had were treated with care and attention.

No question was too much trouble. The head, who has been at the school since September, was reassured that all aspects of the interview day could be "walked through" with any of the advisers. I left the meeting feeling very optimistic.

But just 24 hours later, I was left reeling from the total imbalance of support available to state-school governors. A meeting of the finance and personnel committee had been called to discuss class sizes in Year 6.

The headteacher opened the meeting by saying that due to falling rolls we were overstaffed and faced making a redundancy of at least half of a full-time teaching post.

Of the eight of us, two had not received any financial information. Nobody in the room - bar the bursar - had any commercial, financial or accountancy experience. There were no advisers, and the meeting was dominated by staff personality issues. At one point, the head suggested we make a part-timer redundant on the basis that a part-timer "can't be said to fulfil our curriculum needs". My suggestion that we sought some industrial law guidance on this was greeted with a shrug. The more the discussion went on, the more confusion grew.

After what seemed like hours of wrangling, we took a vote to recommend that Year 6 be reduced to two classes. This would signal the start of the redundancy process. I abstained. I never normally sit on the fence, but I could not support a decision made so ineptly and by so many in a state of such ignorance.

While I applaud the support offered for the appointment of staff, there must also be professional help for governors who have to tackle complicated staffing and financial issues.

The appointment of a deputy head involves decision-making with the pupils' interests at heart. Losing a member of staff is a tragedy for one individual and a body-blow for a whole school. Who's going to "walk us through" that one?

Janette Owen is a journalist and foundation governor at a Surrey junior school.The TES pays pound;150 for contributions published in this column.

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