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Resentment of restraints

Some teacher governors feel like second-class citizens, according to a new survey. Karen Thornton checks out its findings

FIRST the good news. Most teacher governors feel able to play a full part in the work of their governing bodies, and do not feel that any one group dominates proceedings.

However, for the one in eight who feels cut out of committee work, and the one in ten sidelined in major meetings, their responses to a new survey suggest "deep-seated dissatisfaction" with their lot.

This is according to the National Association of Governors and Managers, which surveyed 428 elected teacher governors on behalf of the National Union of Teachers.

The reasons given for discontent included over-zealous interpretation of the legal restraints on teacher governors' participation, as well as resentment of those restraints even when applied fairly. Inappropriate behaviour by headteachers also curtailed teacher involvement.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers often find themselves wrongly excluded from some aspects of governorship. Key areas include personnel, finance and appointments panels, where they are seen as possibly having "personal" interests because of their employment.

However, guidance and regulations are quite clear: they must withdraw from a meeting if a business item relates to the pay or performance appraisal of another member of staff.

But as long as they have no greater personal interest than the generality of governor colleagues, there is no reason to bar them from decisions on the curriculum, finances and budget, school development planning, staff appointments (including the head and deputy), staff discipline and grievances, and pupil exclusions.

Survey respondents also said that some of the legal restraints - even when properly applied - made them feel like second-class citizens, and that other governors saw them in the same light.

Key among these were the bar on chairing committees with delegated powers (cutting them out of the decision-making circle), and the performance management of the head.

And a "small but worrying" minority referred to bullying by their heads. Problems included heads keeping other governors "in the dark" about the true picture of what was going on in school, and both veiled and explicit threats to ensure teachers toed the management line and backed up the head in meetings.

Jane Phillips, who compiled the report and is chair of NAGM, commented: "In a small number of these schools, heads are behaving badly. But, in the vast majority, relationships are working well, legitimate differences are aired and decisions reached democratically.

"It is certainly not in the best interests of the school for governors to be kept in the dark or for teachers to be bullied. This raises the question of who is taking the policing role to ensure that this does not happen."

The survey also tackled the issue of which groups dominate governing bodies.

Ministers are proposing in the current Education Bill that school staff will only be able to stand as staff governors and not as parent or LEA representatives. Their rationale is evidence from the Office for Standards in Education and complaints against boards that suggests governing bodies dominated by staff interests are less objective and fail to tackle weaknesses.

But no such documented inspection evidence exists, says NAGM. Its figures suggest that staff hold more than half the seats on only 0.25 per cent of governing bodies with no vacancies. That compares to 5.3 per cent that are dominated by parents.

"An over-abundance of either parents or staff can cause difficulties for a governing body in discharging its executive functions," says the report.

"The evidence from this survey suggests that over-representation by staff, if it is a problem, is one of minute proportions. Of greater concern is over-representation by parents and this has not been addressed in the Bill."

The NUT plans to use the survey to challenge key clauses of the education Bill in the House of Lords. John Bangs, the union's assistant secretary, is concerned that plans to merge staff and teacher governors into one staff category, combined with the proposed bar on them standing as governors in other capacities, will lead to fewer teacher governors; even in large secondaries, only one place would be guaranteed for a teacher.

But Some Are More Equal Than Others: A Survey of Elected Teacher Governors, by Jane Phillips, can be obtained by contacting 0121643 5787 or governorhq@nagm.org.uk

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