Heads and governors urged to team up

Clare Dean

Aloof, interfering governors and power-crazy headteachers were told this week to take a long hard look at themselves and end their territorial disputes.

The Audit Commission has issued advice on teamwork as "trigger-happy" governors are being blamed for the increasing number of suspensions of heads and deputies.

"Tensions within governing bodies and with the headteacher can, within limits, be used creatively and lead to a better understanding of the issues," the commission said.

Difficulties most often occur when the headteacher and chair of governors cannot work together. But there have also been problems where a governing body has been determined to make radical and over-hasty changes and where staff are resolved against such moves.

And the Audit Commission said: "Where tensions exist between headteacher and the governing body over demarcation lines, both sides must be mercilessly self-critical."

It said headteachers may need to recognise that they could be preventing governors from playing their full part in school life. Likewise, it added, governors may need to acknowledge that they were taking too much on.

"They may be interfering in the running of the school or have inadvertently upset teachers by keeping themselves aloof and by devoting too little time to staff concerns.

"In their eagerness to instigate change, they may also have forgotten to say positive things about the school as well as being critical.

"The first step towards restoring diplomatic relations in these circumstances is for governors to think carefully about occasions when they may, perhaps innocently, have overstepped the mark."

Its advice, contained in a management paper entitled "Lessons in Teamwork", is based on visits to 44 county, voluntary and grant-maintained schools. These visits included discussions with headteachers, governors, observations of governors' meetings, a review of committee papers and interviews with officials at 15 education authorities.

It said although governors' main aim should be to maintain and improve their school's standards of education, there was no single correct division of responsibilities.

Earlier this year David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, blamed "trigger-happy" governors who suspended first and asked questions later for the rising numbers of suspensions.

The number of heads and deputies suspended on grounds of incompetence or misconduct had more than doubled in a year and the NAHT has been attempting to introduce a national code of practice for governance of schools.

However, research by Sheffield University's management school has this week revealed that governors were reluctant to use powers given them under the Education Reform Act and that they are still happy to leave decisions about the curriculum and budget to the head.

The Audit Commission suggests that training co-ordinators could help governors by organising for them to spend time with headteachers discussing their respective responsibilities.

"Lessons in teamwork. How school governing bodies can be more effective" is available from HMSO, Pounds 6.

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