Agenda

16th October 1998 at 01:00
Q For the first time in memory the head excluded a pupil from this junior school. It was a drugs offence. The parents appealed and contested the evidence, and after a terrible three-hour meeting the governors' panel had to agree that the evidence was insufficient. They could not uphold the decision. In fact the paper work was appalling - scruffy, full of subjective comment, hearsay and emotion, the last in all probability because the child was rude and disobedient as well. The teachers have taken our decision extremely badly, using words like "disloyal" and "treachery". As chair I feel very bad. What can I do?

A We all know that we can in minutes destroy a relationship built up over years if we challenge teachers' authority on an exclusion. They should realise that no governing body does it lightly.

I think it unacceptable that teachers should, for instance, refuse to teach a reinstated pupil when governors have carried out a legal duty as conscientiously as they can, but in a few celebrated cases this has happened. In a case like this, it is helpful if the chair speaks to the staff as soon as possible, emphasising that it is a duty imposed by law and that governors, while they hate doing anything so calculated to upset staff, cannot condone even the outside chance of an injustice.

A good point to make is that beyond the governors there is an independent appeal tribunal whose members will certainly look for sound and properly presented evidence, and that it would be much worse for the school if after an interval such a body reinstated the child - wise governors take account of this.

This is a good opportunity to emphasise how important it is to keep records of the incidents and stress that a tribunal would look askance at anything which is not objective, supported by proper signed statements and free from supposition hearsay or prejudice. Indeed, an important role for governors is to protect the school by adopting high standards in these matters.

Q I have been asked to stand as parent governor at my child's school, a church primary school with about 300 pupils. I was amazed to discover that I shall be the only one, yet my friend who is a parent governor elsewhere is one of three. Why is this?

A It is because it is a voluntary-aided school, the governing bodies of which have a different constitution from county schools. Because the church provided it in the first place and still has certain responsibilities for its upkeep, it retains a majority over all other interests on the governing body, so that there is less space for parent members and no co-options.

In addition to the one elected parent-governor, one of the church appointees must be a current parent.

The new School Standards and Framework Act, however, will when it comes into force provide modest increases in parent representation in voluntary schools, namely three elected parents in secondary schools and the option of an extra one in all but very small primary schools. In addition the group appointed by the church authority must then include at least three current parents in a secondary school and two in a primary school.

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