11th August 2000 at 01:00
Answers governors' questions

I am the longest-serving teacher, other than the deputy head, in this primary school. I see it drifting into destructive conflict and realise how powerless a teacher is.

Our head has his strong points, but avoids any debate about school policies, panics and becomes secretive over anything controversial, refuses to discuss complaints and handles governors badly.

The atmosphere is terrible. An opinionated political governor feels the school could do much better (and our Ofsted report wasn't brilliant). An over-enthusiastic parent governor sees herself as the watchdog for all parents' interests and the main communicator with parents, holding her own consultations, making long reports, and badgering head and teachers with complaints. These two absolutely dominate. I go to many meetings as an observer and wonder if I dare intervene.

It isn't a bad school and has no really serious problems, yet the atmosphere is one of impending crisis.

I agree that in many schools teachers have little chance to influence really bad situations and you certainly can't intervene in meetings. The two people who could - given the paralysis which afflicts the head - you don't mention.

These are the chair and the teacher governor(s). And possibly, at a personal level, the deputy head coul influence the head. I suppose it's asking a lot of the teacher governor(s) to try to move the protagonists to common ground where:

* governors recognise that they can only act together to solve school problems;

* the head accepts that the governing body has a right to discuss all important matters;

* all realise that parents will bombard their governors with concerns if the school does not deal with them properly, and;

* governors and particularly parent governors take parents' information needs seriously.

But when teachers are so distressed by the situation, a good teacher governor has a duty to warn fellow governors. The other powerful person is the chair, who should stand up for the governing body's right to concern itself with school standards and parents' perceptions, and also rein back over-enthusiastic members. He or she might well also counsel the head privately about his failure to communicate.

Although you have no official role, do you not feel able, with your long service, either to talk to the head on these lines, or at least convey through your teacher governor the need for an effective chair? Can your local authority training team (or attached inspector, who also might be able to influence the head) not give you an in-house session on roles and responsibilities?

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