14th May 1999 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions.

We have just had a satisfactory Office for Standards in Education report with most teaching classed as good or better, but with reference to some "unsatisfactory" teaching. I overheard a remark identifying the two staff concerned, though in a primary school of nine teachers, as you can imagine, their identity is no secret.

I understand that these teachers will not be named, which seems to me, as a keen new governor, to be against the spirit of OFSTED. It isn't so bad in a secondary school, where every child has a number of teachers, but I feel that the parents of the two classes which have these teachers have a right to know and to be told what is being done, since their children will suffer for a whole year.

I understand your point of view. However, the Government didn't see fit to provide for reports to name unsatisfactory teachers and if we as governors find out teachers' identities - as many will - we should observe what the law intends.

There are good reasons for keeping names quiet unless a teacher, through misconduct or gross incompetence, has become unfit to teach and is a case, after due process, for dismissal.

The most likely outcome from the OFSTED report is a programme for improvement.

The head, with such support from such governors or governors' committees as may be concerned, must take these strictures seriously and start urgent action to remedy the situation. This will involve support and guidance from the authority's inspectors and perhaps from colleagues, maybe an opportunity to observe other teachers' classes and be critically observed while teaching.

There is also the possibility of in-service courses, and almost certainly some support in the teachers' classes. Possibly a disciplinary procedure will be instigated, in which case some members of your governing body's staffing committee will be involved and probably a shadow appeal panel of three different governors nominated in case it comes to that. Even then the outcome will not necessarily be dismissal, but the investigation will be more formal, with target-setting against deadlines and regular checks. The hope is that combining support with the possibility of sanctions will lead to improvement.

Not all governors will agree, but I do not personally think that the remedial measures I have described would be helped by making the process public. Indeed it could be very destabilising to other staff as well as to those concerned and might adversely affect the atmosphere in which children are taught.

There is also the risk of slander action. Is it fair to label teachers without a full inquiry, or a chance to respond and improve? Is it likely to assist or diminish the chances of success? I know it is very frustrating when you can't tell parents that action will be taken, but it helps if you can assure them the school does take teacher quality seriously.

Is it fair that church schools should have so little parent representation?

I get this question often. Voluntary-aided schools are in some fundamental ways different. Their providers - usually a church body - provide religious instruction and worship in accordance with their own faith and may give priority to children from their church community when a school is full. They also have continuing responsibilities for the upkeep of the outside fabric.

In line with these differences they have always legally had a majority over other interests on the governing body, which restricts the scope for other groups. However, from September this year nearly every church school will have one or two additional elected parent governors, and two or three of the foundation group, depending on the size of the school, will also have to be current parents.

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