24th January 2003 at 00:00
For my sins I volunteered to be on the teachers' disciplinary panel although I am a fairly new governor. I never thought it would arise!

Now I am horrified to find we have quite a nasty-looking case and I am not looking forward to being involved. I can't discuss it with you or anybody else, and wouldn't dream of doing so, but I do have a concern.

My husband happens to work in another public service and he is quite shocked to find that the detail of this is left to amateurs in schools. In his job any serious inquiry on a staffing matter would be conducted by experts who do nothing else. I am alarmed that I could contribute to a wrong decision and harm my school. Surely these days it's a matter for experts?

I do indeed know about volunteering for things which look unlikely to arise!

I don't know whether you read the correspondence (starting on the letters page of The TES on December 6) when a headteacher reproached me for advising governors always to stay very close to their LEA on personnel issues - the subject then was appointing a new head, nothing to do with disciplinary proceedings.

In replying (January 3), I gave some of the reasons why governors needed all the guidance and support they could get on staff appointments and dismissals, and they were just the ones you are so well aware of.

You obviously know not only the pitfalls arising from so much - good and necessary - legislation on various kinds of discrimination, and also the fact that a school's decision may not be the end of the matter if any form of unfairness is claimed. It could, as you clearly know, lead to expensive consequences if an appellant were supported by an industrial tribunal. In such a case, if a governing body has acted contrary to LEA advice the school is likely to pay the damages. So there is a very strong reason to listen to what they say, apart from common sense.

Take it seriously by all means. Your LEA will advise you on all the procedures, principles and rules and give you guidance based on a lot of experience on how to conduct the hearing and what to be careful about.

I am sure you know that the facts of the case must be kept confidential even from governor colleagues - to leave enough unprejudiced for any appeal. I hope it will not be too difficult or distressing a task. And that you feel satisfied at the end that the right thing has been done.

TES welcomes your queries. Please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see

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