Joan sallis answers your questions
I was interested to read your reply on August 25 as to whether or not an existing deputy should be appointed to a headship. I wonder why it is always assumed that a school will benefit from an injection of new ideas and that only someone coming from outside can produce a fresh approach?
Many ex-deputies, like myself, already had ideas about development (a word I prefer to "change") before being appointed to the headship. Knowledge of the school and its staff, governors, parents and children, combined with the confidence that comes of being selected by people who knew you well, made it easy for me to introduce my own ideas on sound foundations and as an organic process. Some new heads, anxious to make their mark, introduce change for change's sake. Surely schools need stability, especially after a period of so much externally imposed change.
Thank you for your thoughtful letter. But I was not saying that change is always best. Indeed I was urging the governors concerned not to jump their fences or put faces to imagined candidates, to establish their criteria on the school's needs as they saw them - and if, with all their experience, they saw new ideas to be among those needs, to be honest about it - and to short-list and interview by reference to all the criteria. I knew nothing about that school, but it was clear from the letter that the woman in their case was approaching the end of her working life and was already perceived from the parts I didn't quote as too much identified with an old-fashioned style.
The key factor in a case where the retiring head and deputy have worked closely together for many years may in fact be the character of the head. I was indeed saying just what you say: don't decide that old is best or new is best but judge the candidates on their merits for the post as you see it.
I even added that governors are often criticised in my hearing for being too ready to favour the internal candidate. This is a common assertion by local inspectors and LEA officers and, if it is true, would suggest that internal candidates were less likely to be appointed in the old days when the LEA shared the task.
I hope most governors are shrewd enough to spot and avoid the candidate who is likely to introduce change for the sake of change or for effect - even though they do often interview rather well!
Parents whose children are excluded often find it a shock and the letters they get, although the head does her best to make them friendly and clear, still sound very official. We had the idea of making one governor a "listening ear" and to encourage parents to talk to her if they are worried or confused. The head and senior staff are quite happy about it.
I see no objection, though there are a few important warnings. First, the chosen governor should not be part of any group which subsequently determines the future of that student if he or she is later permanently excluded - I think it is probably better if that governor doesn't take part in any such proceedings, even related to other young people. There are often networks of misbehaving students and you could find yourself knowing too much about a family who play a part in the exclusion of another. Your governor should make it clear to any parents who approach her that she will not have any say in decisions.
Second, the chosen governor must be careful to confine her own comments to the procedures, the parents' rights, the best way to approach the school, etc, and not say anything which could be construed as taking sides, making any presumption about the merits of the case and, of course, never implying any criticism of the school's action. I have found - not in exclusion cases but where someone has come to me distressed about a child's misbehaviour - that it is quite possible to be sympathetic, parent to parent, without in any way commenting on the rights and wrongs.
But when the student is the subject of formal proceedings, you must always allow for more being read into your words, because inevitably you will be seen as speaking for the governors.
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