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Joan Sallis Answers your questions

This is a large comprehensive in a depressed industrial area. It is not an easy school to teach in but we have a stable and dedicated staff. With our former head we had an active personnel committee with quite a workload. The staff governors used it to bring up problems which we usually discussed helpfully.

We used to elect panels to help with teacher appointments, consider pay issues, changes in the staffing structure or individual roles, and to elect members to hear the occasional disciplinary case or appeal.

Our new head is not popular with staff and since he arrived we have had many concerns brought up by teacher governors. Perhaps for this reason he has decided to abolish the committee, but the reasons he gives are that we no longer have responsibility for appointments or teacher disciplinaries, and that we should not encourage teachers to bring complaints to governors as they are usually management matters and it encourages petty grievances.

Can he do this?

If this were a small primary I would say there could be a case for getting rid of any committee whose functions had been reduced to a point where they might be combined with another and thus save a few evenings. We always need to look critically at our structures and use members' time to best effect.

Some governing bodies of smaller schools combine staffing with finance, premises with finance, staffing with curriculum. But a large secondary school throws up a lot of human resource planning to cope with developing needs, role changes and supply cover problems, while appointments, disciplinary cases and grievances will be on a much bigger scale.

I cannot judge the case for abolishing this committee, but it does look like an attempt to suppress problems and support an authoritarian leader.

Some of the most common staff grumbles may be management issues, but consider the following points.

First, the way staff are deployed and managed in a secondary school is closely related to other governor responsibilities - budget, curriculum, pupil welfare and discipline, strategic planning.

Second, the 2002 regulations make it clear that governors still have a role in appeals against dismissal and grievances generally, and even the provision in the guidance accompanying those regulations for governors to be removed from job interviews is just that, guidance, and many schools involve governors as before, a practice which I think is prudent.

Then there are staff amenities and working conditions, and a steam-letting mechanism for problems here seems a good idea. Staff governors will be frustrated if there is no natural forum.

You can reason with the head and encourage staff governors to offer their views. In the last resort you can ask your LEA to help. And staff can ask for help from their professional associations if they are dissatisfied.

The TES welcomes your queries. Please keep requests for private replies to a minimum. Send questions for Joan Sallis to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see governorsask_the_expert

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