6th November 1998 at 00:00

What are your views on the increasingly common practice of chairs of governors deciding that applications and references for new heads should be sent to them direct at home? Surely this is open to abuse and sends out unfortunate messages about not trusting the school office?


I haven't any evidence that it is increasingly common, but you may well be right. I agree that it is a mark of a good relationship when governors have complete confidence that the school will deal honourably, efficiently and quickly with all their correspondence, and that is how it ought to be. In most schools I think it is. But while you clearly think there are no circumstances in which governors should want anything sent direct to their homes, I can't be sure.

I don't make the mistake of thinking that my postbag is typical of general practice - you don't go to the doctor to say how well you feel - but over the years I have heard many things that would help me to understand governors' caution.

I can't imagine such things happening in our school, but I have to accept that they do occasionally happen somewhere. No institution is perfect.

I have heard of parents' complaints addressed to governors disappearing. I have heard of the odd reference going astray when perhaps there are candidates in the school, who are thereby all unjustly under suspicion. I have heard of heads taking an active interest in the appointment of their successors. I emphasise that schools not forwarding mail are exceptional, but there is no guarantee that everybody will behave perfectly all the time.

Appointments are a serious business, time is often critical, and when governors realise that in law they are responsible for all appointments, whatever part they play, they understandably fear circumstances outside their control.

Leaving aside the hard cases, however, I would put some points to you about more everyday situations where it might be right for governors to be accessible at their home address.

Not all governors live round the corner as I do, and while I am very grateful that some kind person from the school always drops in appointments papers by hand the same day, I could not expect this ifI lived some distance away.

Some appointments have a tight timescale, and trusting to two posts doubles the risk. Occasionally, schools use notoriously unreliable child post to get mail to governor parents. Then there are often parent concerns that come up during the holidays when the worried person desperately wants to talk to someone. Finally, many people I meet who send out general material to schools about conferences, books and training aimed at governors complain that schools don't pass it on.

Summing up, yes, it's always good if there is mutual trust but I can envisage circumstances where it may have been shaken as well as quite innocent reasons for wanting mail direct.

As for governors' home addresses being open to abuse, yes, in the odd bad, mad case, but remember there must be trust both ways if this relationship is to work.

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