Agenda

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

Q. It has been brought to my notice that the acting deputy head of this Church of England secondary school has been involved in two sexual relationships with colleagues - one male and one female - at the same time. I do not feel that she is a suitable candidate for the permanent post. Is it permissible for me to give this information to the chair and headteacher?

A

Nobody can prevent you from passing on information privately if you consider it your duty, provided of course that you are sure enough of your facts and so run no risk of action for defamation. But for those who are elected by governors to interview candidates and recommend the permanent appointment - I assume you are not among them - it is a different matter.

The criteria in that process must be such as to lead to choice of the best candidate in every sense for the job, and those responsible must be prepared to state their criteria if challenged. In my experience, selection panels are also advised to keep their notes, showing how they rated the candidates against the criteria: it is their only defence if unfairness in the appointment is alleged for any reason, in particular if equal opportunities are considered to be in question.

If yours is an aided school, the governors are employers so they would be the only ones in the firing line if there were such a challenge. You will, of course, as a full governing body be asked to endorse the recommendation of the panel and that means you all share the responsibility.

In general, a teacher's private life is not our concern as governors if it does not impinge on his or her teaching duties, and we should certainly avoid anything to suggest that homosexual relationships are to be treated differently from heterosexual ones: discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is totally unacceptable employment practice in my view although, unlike gender or race prejudice, it is not the subject of specific legislation.

In a Church of England school, the question of personal morality is especially important. Your standard teacher's contract in an aided school will almost certainly say something about a teacher's obligation to behave suitably in relation to the character of the school.

Some contracts may contain a warning against bringing the school into disrepute. This wording can often be helpful in counselling a teacher whose disregard for the conventions is flagrant or offensive, or one whose competence may be adversely affected by personal relationships. Such a teacher should be tackled now, not just passed over for promotion. But please don't interpret this as an encouragement to witch-hunt a teacher, even in a church school, whose private life does not conform to conventions but who is discreet and professionally competent.

Q

I am the school's office manager and finance officer. The headteacher wants me to chair the finance committee. Can I do this?

A

No. The restriction on members of staff chairing a committee with delegated powers applies to all staff at the school. In any case, it is for the governing body to decide even if you were eligible.

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