19th July 1996 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions.

We have had a new headteacher since Easter. He has been shocked by the stagnation evident in many aspects of the life of our school. Government requirements have not been met and local advisers' recommendations ignored. Staff performance is mediocre and, in many cases, falls short of job descriptions. The new head has produced a radical restructuring plan, but he has unfortunately not discussed it with us.

However, our chair says he considers it an excellent plan and those of us who have now read it feel that, given time, we could have provided a lot of support. Unfortunately, time is against us. Parents have got wind of it (not from the governors) and are panicking. They are demanding a meeting as they think staff are unhappy and that alterations to class teaching are on the cards.

I think we can only profess support for the head without going into detail. However, I'm not sure whether this is enough to calm things down.

Why have we neglected preparation for headship so long? We often do so little for our deputies, who could, at any time, inherit a situation such as you describe.

I am sure it is more common than we realise, especially when a head has been ill before retirement or, for any reason, let things drift. It may seem obvious that even the most desirable change has to be taken at a realistic pace and all concerned carefully prepared.

However, a new head sometimes panics when so much needs attention and forgets that it isn't enough to be right. Yours is realising, I'm sure, that if local advisers' criticisms can be kept from parents then those from OFSTED, when they come, certainly can't.

Nevertheless, it is foolish not to get governors involved in preparing for change and consulting about it. You are right to take the situation so seriously.

Parents must be promised an evening to get acquainted with the new head and hear his plans for the school. I think your chair should call a special governors' meeting, before the parents' meeting, to discuss the proposals which have caused the fuss. I don't think declarations of "general" (ie blind) support for the head will wash, and you risk a loss of confidence in yourselves as representatives of the public.

Your support must take the form of a specific statement to parents that you believe that the changes proposed will provide a better education for their children. Staff will have a chance to give their views on how this is to be achieved.

Can't someone from the LEA help you? They would be well aware of what the new head has to do and an adviser would be appreciated in meetings with parents and staff.

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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