3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Can you help us heal this rift? Until this last spring term when the funding crisis hit us for six, this governing body of a large comprehensive worked reasonably well. We were badly affected by the budget cut for 2003-4. The trouble was that instead of a useful carry-over, which we had managed for many years, and which would have happened again if the head had not set her heart on some ambitious new policies, we had a deficit.

The head was only appointed 18 months or so ago and had what some governors thought was a mistaken desire to develop two new subjects, drama and media studies, as options, believing they would attract more and brighter students. This divided the governing body at the time and those who were against it never forgave the rest.

But we managed to afford it and with majority support, including mine from the chair, we appointed two new staff and equipment was purchased and modest building conversions made.

Now with cuts, and stuck with these costs, we had nowhere to turn. Several older staff who were already taking early retirement, volunteered for redundancy. We made some other economies and have got by. The new departments are thriving. But the staff who left were popular with our older governors who had opposed the changes, and these have refused to forgive and forget, blaming the head for all our problems and being very unco-operative. The atmosphere is bad - there is almost open hostility.

Reading what you said about the meaning of support in a recent Agenda, I realise that the head does expect support as a right, and does not feel it is up to her to mend matters. Can you help both of us? She knows I am writing.

Support is not a right if by that your head means unquestioning endorsement by every governor. Individual governors are not obliged to support everything put before them, but the governing body is obliged to suppport the decisions of its majority.

I assume first that a majority backed the changes. Second, that you have overcome the financial crisis and that the redundancies were genuinely voluntary. Third, that the new options have revitalised the curriculum. If all these assumptions are correct, I think you are justified as chair in pointing this out to dissenters and asking for their co-operation now in building pride in the school. The head is justified in feeling a bit sore about all the back-tracking, especially as she could not have forecast this year's financial shocks. All the same, she cannot expect every controversial change to go through without dissent. She may need to listen rather more carefully to opposing views, and also make the case for what she wants to do. I think this often makes a big difference to how people accept that they have lost an argument. They do not then feel that their support has been taken for granted. It never should be. If you and your head could agree on this you have the basis for an agenda item reviewing the curriculum changes and the restoration of solvency and asking for unity based on majority opinion.

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 governorsask_ the_expert where answers to submitted questions will appear

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