5th March 2004 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

Q: You often advocate the involvement of teachers or even other staff in appointing a head. In what other profession do staff choose their boss? The characteristics they look for may be the reverse of those needed for a strong and demanding leader and they can't know the qualities appropriate to managing a school. I have felt very uncomfortable about being "at the mercy" of such people. How can you justify it?

A: I have heard quite a few governors as well as heads express the same view.

By law staff in schools have places on the strategic management body. They have the right to be chosen (not to be automatically included) in the group which appoints the head and deputy.

In fact, it isn't unknown outside education, but it is not the norm. There isn't anything quite like a school in the size of the almost wholly professionally qualified staff it employs, the indivisibility of the policies it works by, yet the considerable degree of independence individual heads enjoy in applying those policies. It is important that, when the law has provided for teachers to have a voice on the governing body, they should be equal partners and as far as possible eligible to contribute to, and share in, all the duties. It isn't as though the staff did the appointing - theirs is just one voice among many - and they are by no means represented on all appointment panels; indeed I would guess not a majority.

Many governors share your view, and although they are in conflict with the spirit of the law if they don't ever consider electing a staff member, this doesn't always get picked up. Even when they accept the principle they don't always include a staff member. They rightly feel they have to consider other needs - the desirable size of the group; the experience of the individuals; who did it last time; and so on. It wouldn't always be right or possible to include a staff governor. All the law requires is that they are not ruled out .

Surely staff have a very clear idea of what makes a good leader and attach just as much importance to clear aims, strength of purpose and good judgment as anyone else. Given a degree of experience, they probably know more about the process and its pitfalls than lay members of the governing body and introduce a valuable element.

The confidence of the staff in the choice and the fairness of the process is surely increased by being represented. The new head or deputy must benefit from this. I have indeed known a couple of situations where resentment about not including a staff member in a particular appointment has caused trouble for the chosen candidate.

Send questions for Joan Sallis to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see where answers to submitted questions will appear

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