Agenda;Briefing;Governors;Green Paper

19th March 1999 at 00:00
I am head of a comprehensive on a huge estate and the governors leave everything to me. Those who are councillors or party activists overawe the rest. Our chairman is a prominent councillor and doesn't come to our big events. Several governors have said privately that they would elect someone else if they dared. But I feel that a school like this needs powerful friends, and he has power.

I know it's hard work in an area where few people have experience of responsibility, but it can be done. At least your non-political governors talk and listen to you.

But you must discard the old pre-reform, pre-local management hang-ups about a voice in the corridors of power. People with no real interest in the school won't use that power on its behalf. You can only limit abuse of power (and neglect is a form of abuse) by empowering others.

You will improve the quality of your governors long-term by creating a governing body which has a real role and is visible in the school. This major task can be done in instalments. As soon as governors have done one significant thing, make sure you advertise it . Then engineer another.

Meanwhile, work on the governors you have. Talk to them about the school and your problems. Seek their opinions. Show them glimpses of what active governing bodies are doing. Don't any longer discourage them from electing whom they want - perhaps a parent - as chair.

Establish a system which involves every governor and encourage the majority to have high expectations. High expectations move people on, and responsibilities take them further. As an educator you must have special skill in developing human beings. Any governing body is prime material.

Our local education authority has issued a paper about overall teacher absence rates and has suggested that schools monitor these figures with a view to tightening up on unwarranted sick leave. This has caused a great deal of ill-feeling among staff. The LEA says that our rates are high compared with our neighbours. Do you think it is reasonable to suggest that we should scrutinise these figures? Is this common practice?

I don't know how widespread the practice is but I think you will find that monitoring is growing.

I know this is a highly sensitive issue with teachers and that the overwhelming majority are responsible and, indeed, often keep going when they are under par, to the detriment of their general health.

One must also point out that teaching is stressful and that working closely with children exposes teachers to high infection risks.

Having said all this, I must add that most employers do analyse sickness absence and investigate further when the analysis reveals that individuals have problems.

They do not all necessarily do it in a punitive spirit, but wishing firstly, to help any staff who may have special difficulties and secondly, to ensure that all staff observe the same standards when deciding whether time off is justified.

So yes, I do think it is reasonable to keep overall rates of sickness absence under review, with the proviso that information to governors does not identify individuals.

Those who monitor should also be very sensitive, aware of the special conditions applying to teachers, sympathetic to staff who have particular problems, and flexible in taking account of any chronic ailments, accidents or long investigative processes, all of which make some figures look worse than they are.

I do believe that a certain amount of watchfulness is our duty when we are looking after the money available for the school as a whole, and that the existence of a check may influence the tiny minority who need it.

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