6th August 1999 at 01:00
I was surprised to see the letter from Not-tinghamshire (TES, July 30) disagreeing with your interpretation of the eligibility rules for staff representatives. We have been working in our LEA on the basis you suggested on July 16 and are satisfied that it is reasonable in the light of the circular to exclude staff not directly employed by the school. Employees of caterers, grounds maintenance contractors, etc, could at extremes be almost itinerant as far as the school is concerned, and to us it seemed quite unsuitable that they should be involved in the governing body. Can you give further clarification or comment?

I am sorry I gave the impression that this issue is clear-cut, because I now know that it isn't, and many people are confused. I have been trying to get clarification, particularly as I have now also had a letter from Unison challenging my statement.

The DFEE will not give formal rulings to establish the application of Circular 1598 to individual cases, and they regard LEAs as the proper authority for this.

They do say, however, that they would not wish local policies to be too exclusive, and have so advised those who have enquired. There is no confusion about staff employed by the school, full or part-time, on an individual contract of employment or contract to provide services. These are clearly eligible. The doubt has been about staff employed by the LEA or a contractor in fulfilment of a corporate contract to provide services for the school, and you and I and others have wrongly seen this as the big divide.

The DFEE would consider anyone employed by such an agency to work in the school on a regular basis, a school meals supervisor employed by the LEA, for instance, or an agency cleaner assigned long-term to the school, as a suitable person to stand for election - and for that matter so would I if I were writing the rules.

The difficulty, as I see it, is that there are also staff employed by commercial companies, who, while not being what you call "almost itinerant", may change often and have no particular commitment to the school.

The DFEE say that they rely on those involved to make sensible choices. This may be enough to prevent widespread abuse, but my fear is that even the occasional bad experience in implementing a welcome but vulnerable reform might damage the respect and support accorded to it.

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