20th October 2000 at 01:00
A GOVERNOR in our school - I am chair - has a close relationship with a teacher, a departmental head, indeed they have lived together quite openly for years.

When something arises in our work that affects her in some way, for example a budget decision affecting her departmental allowance, he will always keep out of the discussion. This is probably being unnecessarily careful but it's better that way isn't it?

Now, however, we do want him to be on our staff discipline committee, or at least the appeals committee, because he is experienced in personnel work and very good.

He says that conceivably his partner might some day be involved, and, in any case, he inevitably hears a great deal of talk about colleagues at home and might be compromised by too much information. As it is a standing committee he suggests we should count him out. We all think this is unnecessarily fussy and haven't a lot of eligible and good alternatives. What do you think?

I AM inclined to agree with you that your colleague is unnecessarily anxious. Nevertheless if he feels very strongly about it, you must respect his concern. If he is willing to leave this matter up to the rest of the governing body you must follow majority wishes. Perhaps a few comments will help.

Remember that, even though it is a standing commitee, the governing body could always vote in a replacement in the unlikely event that this governor's partner were the subject of a disciplinary inquiry.

As for hearing small talk about staff generally, I am sure your careful colleague can judge whether he has been party to any information that could bring his impartiality into question, and ask to be replaced. After all we should not rule out the possibility of a teacher-governor being on such a committee, and she might also be too close to a colleague in a particular case or hear too much talk about it and withdraw.

The rules about withdrawal are important and none of us wishes to prejudice a fair decision.But at the same time we have to remember that schools are small communities and at some time any one of us may very well come up against a relationship - personal, financial or professional - that is too close for comfort, or a conflict of interest.

When that happens we have to withdraw without delay. But if we declined jobs because of the remote possibility that something of that kind might conceivably happen, we'd soon become pretty short of people.

If it falls to the governing body to make its judgment in this case, bear those things in mind. But if your colleague himself remains uneasy, you have to respect his feelings.

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