10th April 1998 at 01:00
Joan saLlis answers your questions

Q Is it ever right to offer only short-term contracts to new teachers (other than for obvious short-term needs such as a maternity cover)? I think our head uses it to deprive teachers of their job security and keep us out of industrial tribunals.

A I agree that short-term contracts should not be used excessively and that a good school needs a solid core of teachers who feel permanent. But there are often sound reasons other than those you quote. At certain times of the year the field may be poor and a school will wish to postpone a final decision until there is a wider choice. Uncertainties about numbers, budgets or changes in curriculum or organisation may dictate caution. The appointing group may have uncertainties about the quality of the applicant and play safe. Incidentally, teachers on temporary contracts for two years or more now enjoy the same employment rights as others with two years' service, so renewable short-term contacts won't any longer "keep us out of industrial tribunals".

Q Can you say once and for all whether parent governors are full governors or have a limited role on the sidelines? In our school we are expected to help in classes if we can (just cutting up paper, mending books etc.), organise coffee-making for parents' evenings and sound out parent opinion if asked. I have already been told by the head that it is not proper for me to play any part in helping to choose teachers, discussing pay, discipline or finance, for instance.

A I don't know about "once and for all". I almost despair when I get this question over and over. Yes, you are a full and equal governor in every sense, with a right to participate in everything which is a governor's responsibility.

The only exception arises from a rule that concerns all governors equally, and that is that no governor should take part in any decision from which he or she personally or a close family member might gain. A simple example is if you did private catering for parties and the governors were deciding on someone to cater for your head's retirement party. I should add that you don't have to wait to be asked if you think any parent concern is appropriate to bring to governors.

Incidentally, one reason why I agreed to have my special booklet for parent governors commissioned by a county council and approved by it to give to its own governors was that it increased its authority for anyone who wished to have a statement to show doubters.

It is not for the head to have the last word on what governors can and can't do. If there is dispute about the interpretation of a rule the governing body as a whole should decide what to do, getting legal advice if need be. It is important that every governor should know the rules and feel "ownership" of them. You would find it very useful to get another publication written for the same county called Working together: Rules and Good Practices for School Governing Bodies, which covers the rights of individual governors and the way they should work together.

Working Together, Parent Governors: Your Own Guide and similar guides for teacher governors, local authority governors, business governors and church foundation governors come from Northamptonshire Governor Services, Russell House, Rickyard Road, The Arbours, Northampton.

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