4th August 1995 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions. Our headteacher retired at Easter after 25 years at the school, first as deputy and then head. The school had become his life, and some years ago he settled in the neighbourhood and became involved in many of its activities. We all think the world of him as a person and he was a strong and determined leader, though he would be the first to admit that he found it hard in later years to adapt to so much change. Weariness then often made him tetchy and he knows he was a bit impatient with some staff.

However, he has had a good rest and is anxious to remain in touch. He has put himself forward to fill a vacancy for a co-opted governor which arises in October when we have our first meeting of the year.

We are somewhat divided on whether it is a good idea and I have been asked to seek your advice. The former head knows I am doing so and says he will not take it amiss if you advise against.

Perhaps I should add that our new head starts in September - her first headship - and that she comes from another local education authority. Both our deputies - also long-serving - applied for the headship but were not appointed.

I do not know the personalities involved here, so you must allow for that. Nevertheless, I have a pretty strong anxiety about so soon involving as a governor someone who had occupied a senior position in the school for half his adult life, even if he were a saintly person.

He would indeed be superhuman if his fingers did not itch to interfere, and your new head needs space to establish her own style and relationships. It would, I think, be very unfair to her to subject her to such close observation by her predecessor even if it went no further than that. Indeed, she will probably imagine a critical attitude where there is none.

She will need all your support without such a disturbing influence, because of the long period your former head served in the school and the other factors you mentioned. Inevitably she will make changes which some staff will take to better than others, and almost inevitably the former head would, as a governor, become a focus for any conflict or discontent that might otherwise be a only a transient problem.

I am sure your wise man will understand these dangers and drop the idea. If he doesn't, you will have to put the interests of the school as you see them first. Perhaps a local primary school governorship would be a better idea if he is really keen to retain his link with the education system. In a few years' time there might even be a possibility of his becoming involved with your school if you were sure that it would not upset the applecart.

We face a difficult situation next term as our deputy, who was acting head during the old head's illness and who was his deputy for 10 years, did not get the post. The staff were very partisan about it all and she was strongly supported by her more senior colleagues, who see it as an injustice.

The younger staff (a minority, I admit) were openly in favour of change, and one of these, who is a teacher governor, was on the panel. He is going to have a difficult time, but as chair I'm more concerned about the new head and how we can get the school in a happy state again with our excellent deputy working well with her. The choice was unanimous, and we are sure it was the right one.

This is happening all the time somewhere. Schools do change, and need change, and part of being professional is to accept the normality of what is happening in your school. The seniority structure you describe makes it almost inevitable that there will be a big and initially painful change sooner or later.

Don't underestimate the professionalism of teachers. My experience is that they quickly rise to this sort of situation and indeed will soon come to recognise that the school needed a fresh impetus. You as governors can do a great deal to maintain morale by ensuring that all staff are assured of their value, that your new head doesn't initiate changes at too headlong a pace and that she doesn't fail to consult and explain her ideas both to staff and parents.

If staff are assured early on that there isn't just one kind of excellence in a teacher, and that a school can accommodate a variety of styles to its advantage, their natural fears will be allayed. If your new head is as good as you think she is, she will know all this - but you, as governors, can painlessly reinforce all these messages in your early contacts with her. Try to keep clear in the early days of any staff murmurings, and be solid in your optimism and your conviction about your choice.

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