10th March 2000 at 00:00
I AM a parent-governor in this Church of England school. I knew before I took on the job that it had become an unhappy place since the appointment of the current head. She has friends in high places, both the education authority and the church, but surely she shouldn't be bomb-proof.

The trouble is her bullying style, which everyone knows about and nobody tackles. Our teacher turnover is high and several teachers have been off with illnesses due to stress. At least half the teachers regularly approach individual governors in tears, talking about how cruelly they are treated, and several have already come to my house.

I have talked to our chairman but he is a peace-at-any-price sort and says there is nothing we can do, and that teachers are always whingeing. Some other governors are as worried as I am but bewildered about how they can help. One has talked to the vicar, another to an education authority personnel officer he plays golf with, but nobody has an answer. Yet from our governing body meetings you'd never think anything was wrong.

YOURS is a classic malfunctioning governing body, even to the fantasy quality of its meetings. What you do together bears no relation at all to what as individuals you perceive to be problems. You are all very well-motivated, but the hardest lesson is that individual governors who try to take up a problem themselves always come to grief, and if it involves teachers being encouraged in the kind of confidences you describe they suffer too. It is all unstructured, unscientific and changes nothing. Yet you clearly have a serious problem which only the governing body acting together can solve.

I do sympathise with teachers who haveto spend their working lives in the way you describe. But it doesn't help them at all to pour it out to individual governors who because of diffidence or fear of litigation don't or can't take it any further except in whispers, and would only do the teacher concerned further harm if they did, so what's the point? Whatever problems teachers have, there is some proper process for it within their workplace. It may mean initially - depending on the subject - going either to their line manager, their union, their teacher-governors or, formally, their governing body.

In your situation it seems quite likely that they have a case for acting together as a group to bring a grievance case, which would be handled by a committee of governors, with an appeal panel of different governors no less in number than the original committee. The investigation would be thorough, objective, and hopefully constructive. It doesn't have to end in the dreaded outcome. Often a professionally conducted inquiry can help the person complained of to identify and cope with problems which are holding him or her back and create a fresh start.

Get guidance from your LEA on procedures when the time comes, but accept that it is your responsibility as a group to handle the issue.

It sounds as if your chair is short on leadership quality. The rest of you may need to put these points forcibly to him. There is a new procedure for voting a chair out of office in the last resort, with very strict safeguards to ensure fairness. But be sure that he isn't saveable with better support and also, if it comes to the crunch, that a heavy majority will stay together and that you can make your concerns stick.

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