23rd August 1996 at 01:00
Joan sallis answers governors' questions

Our budget just keeps us ticking over. It almost spends itself. Capital schemes get approved only if something is falling down. We have lots of exciting ideas for development but no capital to bring them to fruition. In the business world it is commonplace to borrow for future expansion. Why not schools?

The answer is that business expansion comes from confidence and that profits will increase to pay for borrowing. However, if the school's main source of income is its pupils then it may prove to be a chancy way of meeting loan repayments.

Borrowing may also be seen as risking assets that belong to the community. Nevertheless, none of this has stopped the government legislating for GM schools to raise money on the market, and it could, for all I know, be on the agenda for LEA schools, although it's not in the recent White Paper. I heard a manager from a large company say the other day that he thought schools should be allowed to borrow on the market, but he didn't say where the money to repay would come from. I believe that every budget should contain an item marked 'development', however small the sum, as an indication of vision and faith in the future. It is good for morale to see something beyond the bread and butter to plan for.

I can understand why governors, who might have to be on an appeal panel, must be kept in the dark about teacher misconduct cases which come before a disciplinary committee.

But surely secrecy should not be maintained even after the appeal period has expired or the appeal itself is all over?

I find this very difficult. I can't identify anything in the law which provides the answer - though no doubt someone is waiting out there to put me right. My observation of actual practice is that on the whole governing bodies are advised to confine information to those directly involved and that they keep to this rule, which is presumably why you are questioning it.

Lawyers generally approach these things on a 'need to know' basis, confining information to those who have to act upon it. They would argue that the discipline committee and, if appropriate, the appeal panel should know who the teacher was, and what he or she did wrong, because they had to make up their minds about what action to take, and anything beyond that is just scandal mongering. That is the line many people I respect have also taken, and they could tell some horror stories of how the resulting situation could get out of hand if too much information were let out.

I remain somewhat uneasy. Secrecy, which puts some governors in an unequal position, and assumes we are not responsible enough to deal with confidences, does worry me. I also wonder whether the 'need to know' principle is interpreted widely enough. After all anything which might at some time have a bearing on decisions we need to make, or our understanding of the school and its staff, cannot, in the nature of things, be dead and done with. There is also the requirement for committees to keep all governors informed, as far as possible, about what has been done in their name. On the other hand, if I were a teacher I would obviously want the number of people who knew of my misdemeanour to be kept to a minimum, and I would be anxious lest the past be brought up unfairly if I got into difficulties again. Should that be relevant?

If nobody corrects me I will say that, in the absence of clear guidance, governing bodies must decide how to handle information after the event, always bearing in mind, of course, the need to be super careful while there is still the possibility of an appeal.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200.


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