27th December 1996 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

Q - A teacher at our all-girls comprehensive has been suspended on full pay since Easter, pending a court case. She has now been found not guilty of the charge in question, but we have enough evidence in the school - and enough came out at the trial - to convince us that on grounds only indirectly related to the charge she is a totally unsuitable person to teach. Does the fact of her having been cleared in a court of law prevent us from taking disciplinary action even though the offences are not the same?

A - You must be sure that you can prove the misconduct in question and that it will be considered sufficient reason for dismissal, if that is the outcome. You should also ensure that your local education authority is behind you. Otherwise, although you can still go ahead, you risk having any financial penalties taken out of the school budget. With these reservations taken into account, however, there is no reason why you cannot proceed. Indeed, had you dismissed this teacher before the court case - and saved a lot of money - a not guilty verdict would not necessarily have put you in the wrong: an industrial tribunal would accept that the criteria can be different. You might have been successful if you could have proved that there was reasonable evidence of gross professional misconduct and that it merited the action you took.

Q - Our new headteacher wishes to modernise a rather out-of-date reading policy. I don't think there is anything dramatic in prospect, but it will undoubtedly involve the purchase of a new reading scheme, in stages if finances dictate, the introduction of a very limited "real books" element (I repeat, not revolutionary), a restatement of the role of phonics, and a home-reading partnership scheme. We wanted to arrange for every governor to spend some time in reading lessons so that we have some idea of what we are moving from. The head is not happy and says he is not sure it is our concern, but agreed we could write to you.

A - I think your idea is excellent. There is nothing more calculated to make parents nervous than a change in reading policy, and if governors understand and support what is happening (backed up by a willingness to devote funds to it), their ambassadorial role can be invaluable. It is an area where there is already a lot of misunderstanding and where people too easily jump to the wrong conclusion, especially with a new head and in the light of the often misleading material that appears in the press about reading.

It is true that we are talking about curriculum delivery and that the detail of teaching reading is a professional matter, but it is necessary - if governors' stewardship of the national curriculum is to mean anything - that they should consent in broad terms to the methods proposed and approve changes.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.Fax: 0171 782 3200e-mail: letters@tes1.demon.

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