A risky business
Governors are expected to play their part in ridding schools of the 15, 000 teachers said by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, to be incompetent. And with some teacher unions contemplating industrial action if their members are "victimised" as a result of being named as "poor" teachers under the new inspection rules, governors should be thinking again about their arrangements for staff competence, discipline, grievance and rewarding excellence.
Fairness and confidentiality are the hallmarks of handling such issues successfully. The Office for Standards in Education's tool to help headteachers is the teaching report - under new inspection arrangements from the beginning of this term, teachers whose work is judged particularly good or poor will be named in these reports.
The procedures are laid down in a new code of practice which emphasises their confidentiality. But some of the code's requirements could threaten that confidentiality and so put at risk the governing body's capacity to follow its normal arrangements for incompetence, discipline, grievance or rewarding excellence.
Risk arises because: * named teachers can use the report for professional purposes * headteachers can show the report to others * headteachers may pass the report to the governing body.
Teachers whose work has been judged poor may feel aggrieved but have scant recourse. OFSTED will only consider representations about the conduct of the inspector or the inspection - not about the inspection judgment.
In these circumstances, teachers who think the judgment wrong may try to circulate the report to governors. Should this happen, governors should make it plain that the report alone is of no consequence. Governors will only think it significant for them if it is presented with other information under the established staffing procedures.
A second source of risk arises in schools where governors are attached to a faculty or class. Headteachers have scope to use the report to tell others with management reponsibility for the teacher the nature of his or her shortcomings - or strengths.
Governing bodies should make it plain to heads that staff made aware of a teaching report are not to share it with individual governors who may be attached to a faculty or class. And individual governors should be cautioned against seeking information about the reports.
Risk can also arise from heads passing reports to governors - except in the context of staffing procedures. Even then the report should only be made available to governors immediately involved. This will avoid prejudicing any later stages in the staffing procedures.
A fourth, small risk is that governors may come across named teachers during an inspection. They may be in the school to monitor the inspection's progress and support staff. As teachers whose work may or will lead to a teaching report are expected to be told by the end of a working day, they could come across an elated or crestfallen staff member and inadvertently learn that he or she is to be named. If that happens, the information must be kept confidential to themselves.
Inspectors will not give teachers' names in oral reports to governors nor will they be given in the inspection report or summary.
Should any of these four hazards occur then the governors concerned could be regarded as tainted when and if staffing procedures come into play. Safeguarding staffing procedures of all kinds is clearly unneccesary. This has to be over-riding and therefore limits the governing body's capacity to make immediate responses in individual cases. What they can do shortly after an inspection is ask the head whether a teaching report has been made and, if so, whether support arrangements are necessary and being put in place?
Governing bodies need a set of ground rules about these reports if they are to safeguard staffing procedures. At all times it will be made plain that they are, in the first instance, a matter for the teacher and the head. Suggestions here can help governing bodies decide what these ground rules might be.
Making them known before inspections should make it easier for named teachers, headteachers and governors to deal with questions the code of practice raises but does not answer.
Charles Stiles is a governor trainer