25th June 2004 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

I have always enjoyed being a parent governor and up to now we have all worked together with no out-of-bounds subjects. Now, however, we understand that two of our teachers are under investigation, one involving misdemeanours on a school trip and one competence. Most of us know no more but the discipline committee's lips are sealed. I find it upsetting to be treated like a second-class governor. I feel especially upset about the discipline case. I have two daughters in the school and surely have a right to know what they might be exposed to?

In general all members of a governing body, like yours up to now, are treated the same and trusted to keep any secrets. The only exception is when teachers are being investigated for misbehaviour or professional incompetence. This has to be done by a small committee of governors elected - as your discipline committee will have been - by their colleagues. This is to stop careless talk which might prejudice a fair hearing and to ensure that there are enough governors left "uncontaminated" by knowledge to form an appeal committee. You might very well be asked to serve on such a committee.

I should not worry about your daughters. Don't, just because it was a school trip, let your imagination work overtime. It is vitally important to stick to these rules and prevent a free-for-all in the gossip department.

Teachers are very vulnerable and we all benefit from ensuring that they have fair treatment. Just don't try to explore the facts until your committee has done its work.

We still assist with interviewing job candidates. Last week I was doing so and the head of the department asked a candidate if she would have difficulty travelling to school. Is this appropriate?

In ideal circumstances I would say this is a question better avoided, but I would guess, however, that you are finding teachers in some subjects desperately hard to find, have a lot of disappointments, suffer from expensive housing, a shortage of suitable starter accommodation, and busy roads. Asking about the journey does create a better chance that the candidate's choice will be realistic and that you won't have too many withdrawals. We have to be careful not to appear to be introducing inappropriate criteria or plain nosiness, but going as far as your colleague did is understandable.

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 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 where answers to the submitted questions will appear

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