Joan Sallis answers governors questions

We had a new head in September 2000. The previous one retired early following criticisms about the school's performance, which nearly ruined her health. It was a happy place for pupils and staff, and that is no longer so. The staff feel they are being chased the whole time, the smallest faults being picked on. Discipline of children is heavy, parents no longer seem to come in to help, and clearly don't feel welcome. The relationship with governors is dire.

We get little information, are expected to rubber-stamp things without any background, and the most innocent question or comment produces a snappy response. The head clearly thinks we are a waste of time at best, and a hindrance to her school improvement plan at worst. But SATs results and other indications of performance have much improved and that is what we all want. But is it only possible at a price?

I don't believe performance can improve only at the expense of relationships, and I would take a lot of convincing that a school where relationships with staff, children and parents are poor, and where governors are not allowed to perform their legal function, can thrive in the long-term. A short, sharp shock may give quick results, but the foundations have to be sound. You must go on trying to strengthen them.

The crucial detail missing is the reason for the school's under-performance before 2000. The previous head is the key. It's possible to be a lovely person and create a good atmosphere without having the slightest notion of how to manage a complex institution, get the best out of staff and pupils, and engage governors in a productive dialogue about a strategic improvement plan. However nice your old head was, you have to accept that she lacked those skills, and governors should reflect on this and ask themselves if they might have identified the critical missing factors. Only this will help you talk about how you can contribute to making the improvement lasting and at the same time try to ensure that the price tag isn't so high.

"The TES" welcomes your queries, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum.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.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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