1st August 1997 at 01:00
Joan sallis answers governors' questions

Q) I am a teacher in a comprehensive who was accused by a 13-year-old girl of making sexual advances. The caretaker had seen us close together in an empty classroom while I was helping her with maths which was impeding her progress. I was suspended on full pay while enquiries were made. The girl eventually broke down under questioning and said that she had fabricated the whole story, whereupon the caretaker (who has a grudge against me because my job involves supervising his not very good work) admitted that apart from our being alone, he had seen nothing untoward. In fairness he had told no lies but had not gone out of his way to help either until the girl changed her story. I feel that I have a grievance because colleagues and parents will always think there's no smoke without fire. The girl has been severely dealt with and the head has done her best to make amends, but I still feel that suspension is a black mark which cannot be erased. Could governors intervene?

A) I sympathise very much: it is an unpleasant experience and, sadly, becoming more common. But suspension on full pay really is a neutral act and this should be made clear throughout the school. A school must have some means of buying time to make investigations when the alleged offence is a serious danger to children. Even if you had been instantly dismissed and later found not guilty in court, an industrial tribunal would not necessarily have found wrongful dismissal, as they would recognise the special circumstances of an employer with the care of children. As long as your head and governors have done all in their power to dispel suspicion, I'm afraid all you can do is be even more careful in future to avoid being alone with a child and hope that time will erase the incident.

Q) Many parents do regular sessions helping teachers in our school: hearing reading, helping children change for PE, accompanying them on outings, sorting library books, etc. Often some who become governors will continue as before. I can't help feeling uneasy about this. Surely it isn't what governors are for?

A) No, it isn't what governors are for but I see no harm in it - as long as it isn't all they do. Indeed it provides good learning experience, builds friendly relationships with teachers and prevents a gulf developing when parents become governors between them and other parents. Indeed, I have always believed that an element of useful and uncontroversial activity helps any group with a more serious role to gain the right image: schools too often think there are two kinds of parents: the good sorts (in the PTA) and the stirrers (who become governors). Blurring this line can only be healthy. Just one warning - we must all be careful, when something difficult has to be done or said, that we don't allow personal relationships to cloud our judgment: the children's needs should be paramount.

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