Agenda

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

I am head of a large comprehensive. I don't think I'm anti-governor - at least I wasn't - and fully accept their right to be informed. I also accept that if I make a right mess of things they are entitled to hold me to account - but it is a very successful school. Like others we have had financial problems this year. It began with a minus sign, and serious measures had to be taken to balance the books. Our 20034 budget plan was not entirely honest - frankly, we had no hope of doing everything in it. So I spent many a sleepless night thinking hard, which is what I think I'm paid for. The governors had agreed to the massaged budget we put in because I told them we were not allowed to plan for a deficit, and then I set about making sure we didn't have one. I cancelled big planned orders for textbooks and equipment for launching a new course. They are complaining about this because they had strongly supported the curriculum venture and we had even planned a new teacher appointment, but fortunately I was in time to withdraw the ad. I also decided that the plan for a site manager (which the governors had wanted for a long time) had to be put in cold storage. They are furious, and to add insult to injury they have now been trying to find other economies which they think would hurt less. They have also blamed me for giving the second threshold enhancement to all the teachers who applied, and for certain alleged extravagances in my own office support. Isn't this more than prudent oversight? And a kick in the teeth when I'm doing my best?

I'm a bit muddled about the chronology of some of this breathless re-budgeting, but I think you started with an end-of-year deficit, persuaded your governors to agree to a pretend budget for the current year which couldn't possibly work, and then proceeded to scrap certain of its major proposals without further consultation. These were not just decisions on money but on major curriculum innovation and staffing which also properly belong to the governing body.

I can understand their anger because in all this you have not only usurped their legal role but scrapped projects they had enthusiasm for without any discussion. They sound a very good lot and I can't blame them if their attack on your small empire was a shade petulant. You rejected their precious gift of enthusiasm and that hurt.

You have defined their role in terms of light and friendly oversight. I'm afraid it has to be a good deal more than that. The decisions you took without them were undoubtedly strategic and legally within their remit - the latest Education Act says that except where otherwise stated, the conduct of the school shall be under the direction of the governing body. I won't comment on your alleged automatic approval of the second round of pay increases because I don't know the facts, and because I suspect that if you were a bit careless about this, you were not alone. Indeed, there was a lot of it about and government guidance was flimsy. But on the major issues you raise there has been no real sharing of the budget problem with your governors and you must seek to repair this omission. I hope you surmount this crisis, of course, but if you want their support, you should give them an assurance that from now on you will tackle problems together.

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.uk governorsask_ the_expert

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