I am chair of governors in a quite large comprehensive. We have our problems but until recently we were a united group of people with the school's interests at heart, pulling together and proud of our school.
Now a new teacher governor seems to be using his position to air personal grievances and blacken the reputation of colleagues, including the head. He doesn't say these things at meetings but in conversation with me and other governors.
The whole effect is disturbing and divisive and I believe some of our less experienced members are beginning to think that the school is racked with conflict, intrigue and professional wrongdoing. It's even beginning to get me down, but more important it is spoiling the open and supportive atmosphere we always had. What should I do?
I can imagine how distressing this is. I am assuming first, though, that your governing body as a whole is not sweeping any real problems the school has under the carpet, and that we are talking about malicious but, on the whole, insignificant and perhaps not even well-founded gossip about individuals which is designed to disturb and divide.
You rightly feel that you have to do something to stop it disturbing and dividing you. You might now and then, without referring to anything in particular, begin a meeting with a reminder that the governing body's job is to set a framework of policy for the school to ensure effective and fair decision-making and aimed solely at high standards of performance, behaviour and care for all staff and students. You could add that all members must keep their eye on these objectives and not be distracted.
Most will know what you mean, I imagine, but without being specific you may be able to reinforce that message in private conversation with colleagues.
But this is no use unless you are also going to respond in the same vein to the tales this colleague tells you. Give him no encouragement and make it clear that it is no use informing you of matters he is not prepared to take up with the individuals concerned or the headteacher, who alone is responsible for managing staff day by day.
The head surely cannot be aware of this behaviour, and just mentioning him to the teacher governor may have a salutary effect. I wonder too what the other staff governors know of these revelations and what they think - you might ask him that, with the implication that if there is a problem of relevance to governors, staff representatives should act together.
There is a procedure for a governing body to suspend a member for unacceptable behaviour, but it is an extreme step and then it begs the question of what you do when the six months is up. If the problem became uncontainable you might acquaint your colleague with the existence of this provision, but I do not think it is appropriate until you have made it absolutely clear that you do not want to hear gossip which has no bearing on your duties, or be told that others have been subjected to it.
Schools can be fertile ground for gossips but the culprits usually are not very brave.
A compilation of Joan Sallis's columns has been published in Questions School Governors Ask. Copies are available at pound;7.95 from The TES bookshop: call 0870 4448633 or see www.tes.co.ukbookshop. 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 www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert