Agenda

14th February 2003 at 00:00
Answers your questions

Our new head said from the beginning that he would not be a governor. Can he do this? What reason can there be? But he comes to all meetings, talks a lot, and sometimes disagrees with what is suggested. For instance he argues about our arrangements for doing our work - timing of meetings, what committees, what information we ask for. The implication is we check everything with him. Once he vetoed our decision on the timing of a letting to allow more football practice.

A head has the option to be a governor. A majority do, but some think they have more influence through independence - in my view their role gives them that unique influence either way. Often, however, they don't realise that because they haven't a vote they must be pretty careful on important matters not to influence those who do. They may still attend all meetings (apart from a few exceptions both governor and non-governor heads must avoid, for example, selecting a new head or their own dismissal!) but they do so as professional adviser not member. Some forget this. It is not an easy line - your meeting arrangements and organisation of work do concern him, not only because he has the right to attend but because some aspects, for example information needed from staff or clashes with other needs, touch on school management. Only on those grounds could he challenge your responsibility for the school premises out of hours in such a good cause, and he does seem to be trying to have it both ways. It is not good.

Our head is also a governor. He is able, but lately has been under strain and has become tetchy, especially with us. We are a good lot, caring and also experienced. Sometimes if he is isolated in a vote he will refuse to implement the decision. He says it is his right. He also argues in the staffroom against decisions we have made - sometimes supporting the staff against us and saying we are fools, or even ridiculing us and them on matters where we have supported staff. We hear he spoke against us in a parents' meeting and also was rude about us to our LEA director.

I hope you have a tactful and sensitive chair who can discuss these issues with your head, accepting the strain he is under but making clear how unacceptable some of this is. His decision to be a governor carries with it corporate responsibility and loyalty, accepting decisions properly made and showing respect for you in and outside the school. Offence against these principles especially outside the school could seriously damage his career - I heard of a case where it might have cost a head his job. You don't want that - you clearly think well of him and accept he is not himself these days. I should add, however, that I would only support you where decisions properly belong to governors - in other words are genuinely strategic. Any head is entitled to override your opinion on an internal management or professional matter if he thinks it wrong for the school, and if you have overstepped the mark on such a subject you should acknowledge it. But even then he should give reasons convincingly and with respect.

Please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers. 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 www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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