7th August 1998 at 01:00
Q: We were stunned when our head said he was intending to resign. We had no warning, and he is not old enough for the local educaiton authority's early retirement scheme. I hear he has inherited some money and is also keen to write detective stories, but the big shock was that he said we were driving him out. He refused to say more, so he has left us with a very unpleasant taste and the suspicion that he may say untrue and harmful things about us. We aren't a disciplined lot, and a few are a bit outspoken. We support the school, but surely if we don't dare open our mouths about the few things we find wanting from time to time, there's no point in our being there. Most of us would say he is very prickly and defensive and can't cope with any challenge, but we know it is a tough job running a secondary school these days and I thought we had been very tolerant. Have you any idea what we could have done wrong?

A: You don't give me many clues. All I can say is that, though I hope it is not common, this situation is one I have met a few times when I have been asked to help a governing body mend poor relationships before a desperate head calls it a day. So I may have an idea of some of the things that go wrong.

Of course it could be the head who is mainly to blame. Occasionally a head has such a strong sense of personal authority that he or she finds it hard to accept the legal role of governors. But he owes it to you, not to mention his successor, to tell you where things have broken down, and you can tell him that it is not reasonable to leave you in fear of damaging talk if he won't be specific.

But perhaps you have not always behaved thoughtfully. Here are some of the issues that can cause friction.

* Do you all realise that you have no power at all as individuals and can only operate within the restraints of corporate responsibility, as a team? The governing body is the "critical friend"; 16 or 20 critical friends is beyond a joke.

* Do you pitch your involvement at the appropriate level - that is, policy and strategy - not trying to cut across the head's responsibility for running the school day by day?

* Are you always discreet and loyal to the school and the decisions made together?

* Do you avoid carrying into the governing body unrelated parent concerns which aren't policy issues?

* Are your meetings focused and orderly, considerate of those who work in the school after a tiring day?

* Do you always remember to praise what the school does well, not just wait till you have a cause for concern, and do you take an interest in its life and work, sharing teachers' enthusiasms and showing appreciation and concern for their well-being?

If the head's decision is not yet official, talk to him about mistakes you think you may have made; a fresh start may still be possible. Otherwise, discuss among yourselves - and especially with the acting head when appointed - how you can build a better relationship.

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