21st April 1995 at 01:00
Can a headteacher open all letters addressed to individuals care of the school, in particular to teachers and governors, including the chairman?


THERE isn't anything in the Education Acts about it, but I understand that any intended recipient of a personally-addressed letter could in theory take civil action against someone who knowingly opened such a letter. The only defence in a workplace would be that the letter was addressed to the individual purely in hisher capacity as a representative of the company, and I don't think even a letter to an un-named chair of governors would automatically come into that category.

I hope this is not common in schools, but I regret to say that I do hear of cases. When one considers that people in mental hospitals normally have protection against having their mail opened, and many categories of prisoners likewise, it puts this very bad practice into perspective!

It is one reason why I have always been so firm about the chair's home address being required in governors' annual reports to parents. Your governors should, I suggest, bring this issue into the open and formally record that they wish letters addressed to individuals to be passed on unopened. I would guess that the motive for opening letters is normally a feeling of insecurity about any communication which by-passes the head, and also a certain possessiveness, which is sometimes in evidence.


We have made two attempts to get a parent-governor elected to fill a vacancy but no one can be persuaded to come forward. Have you any suggestions?


THE 1986 Act allows governors to appoint a parent-governor in a county or controlled school (this does not appear to extend to voluntary aided schools) where a vacancy cannot be filled by election. It should if possible be a parent of the school concerned, but failing that it can be a parent of at least one child of compulsory school age in another school. It cannot be an elected member of the local education authority or a co-opted member of its education committee, or an employee of the LEA or of any voluntary aided school maintained by the LEA. The appointment must be made by the governing body and cannot be delegated, and requires a special quorum of two-thirds (ignoring any vacancies when calculating those eligible to vote).

This should be a last resort. Do bear in mind that recruitment should be on your mind all the time, not just when there is a problem. There are certainly areas where people feel less confident about participating than others, but some schools in such areas have problems while others don't, and it's always worth trying to find out why.

Make sure that the school in general is welcoming to parents and makes them feel needed, that it gives the clear message that it does want ordinary people and that the only important qualifications for the job are a belief that education is important; a commitment to the local school; and a conviction that schools are interesting. Try to provide some opportunity for possible recruits to talk to current governors and find out a little about what governors do, even attending meetings as an observer. Remember that the best recruiting agency is a governing body whose work is real and relevant and visible in the school.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Joan Sallis regrets that she cannot undertake to answer queries privately

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