19th March 2004 at 00:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

Q: The primary school where I am a governor has just had a very critical inspection report - though we escaped special measures. Our headteacher - who has not been with us long - is, in parents' and teachers' opinion, weak and lacking leadership skills. He thinks governors are a waste of time, treats us patronisingly, and has done his best to reduce the activity we had been used to and keep us out of school between meetings.

We used to spend time observing classes and we had good relationships with the teachers. He stopped that, saying that what went on in the classroom was not our concern. It has been like going back a generation and being confined to litter and loos.

Ironically, the governing body was particularly criticised by the Office for Standards in Education for being inactive and not monitoring performance. I can't bear to see the school in such poor heart, staff demoralised and children dispirited. I almost wish we had had an Ofsted classification that would have resulted in extra help and monitoring. What can we do about this decline?

A: I doubt whether any dramatic solution is possible as far as the head is concerned. It is a salutary example of how important the headteacher appointment process is. We all need to dig a lot deeper into basic attitudes and values than we generally do in interviews - inventing some pretty savage scenarios and case-studies to establish whether or not the candidate is truly governor-friendly.

But people do grow and change, and I would not be as pessimistic as you about a great improvement in the head's running of the school at least. You were lucky in having an inspection pretty soon, and lucky to have had some clear criticisms directed towards that end. Maybe in special measures you would have had more formal support from the local education authority, but you will still be pleasantly surprised by the amount of attention and monitoring it leads to.

I am sure that criticisms of performance, relationships with staff, and awareness of what leadership means will all be followed up rigorously by LEA and Ofsted inspectors.

The question of the head's attitude to governors is rather more intractable. I feel that if a head is really determined not to work with governors as the law intends, and has managed to conceal this at interview, we have little hope of assuming our proper role on our own. Unless, importantly, we get an Ofsted report which specifically refers to the deficiencies in governance, so that we have something concrete to work on.

You have this and I'm sure you will find the situation is watched and monitored and that for the first time you will have some support in getting it improved. Most important of all is that you look after personal relationships with teachers most carefully during this time. Many opportunities arise to show appreciation of staff. Use them all.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see governorsask_ the_expert

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