Breakdown of leadership

24th January 1997 at 00:00
The unhappy report on Manton juniors by Nottinghamshire's inspectors provides compelling evidence that last year's crisis over the attempted expulsion of one boy was but the tip of a much larger iceberg of mismanagement; a situation for which no one involved - not even Nottinghamshire and its inspectors - can evade responsibility. And since the antagonisms which contributed to the school's eight-day closure are not unusual, the report provides salutary warnings for headteachers, governors and education authorities everywhere.

Twice last summer the governors refused to confirm the headteacher's decision to exclude the boy. This led to a strike threat by NASUWT members. After Nottinghamshire's director and chairman of education became involved, a temporary solution was brokered. The governors, meanwhile, formally requested help from the authority to improve relations between them and the school.

It was to this end that the inspection was carried out, though by the time it began the temporary solution had broken down, three governors including the chair had resigned and the school had closed. It reopened after the boy's mother agreed to a transfer. The inspection team then talked to every governor and teacher, including those who had resigned.

What it found amounts to a complete breakdown of leadership in the school thanks to conflict between the head and governors, failure of the head to keep governors informed and factionalism within the governing body. The result was impoverishment of education, low expectations and inadequate curriculum and financial planning.

Though the inspection was not set up to re-examine the disputed exclusions, it is significant that it finds "serious weaknesses" in the school's behaviour policy. Management of behaviour was said to be confrontational; "based on control and punishment with insufficient emphasis on praise and personal responsibility".

Fundamental to all this is the lack of strategic direction and planning. "Governors and staff do not share a clear vision or direction for the school, " the inspectors found. The head and governors did not agree about the role of the governors and their relationship with the head was "unproductive". Governors were impeded by lack of information, mistrust and too little involvement in decision-making or monitoring. They were expected to rubber-stamp the head's recommendations with little opportunity to consider other options.

Governors rooted in the Manton community challenged accepted views because they felt the school was not doing enough for its children, while other governors gave the head unqualified support. Financial management failed to meet the needs of pupils. The view of the head and staff that these were best met by retaining maximum numbers of teachers "has benefited staff morale more than pupils' educational entitlement". Too little was spent on staff development or teaching materials.

Responsibility and remedies for this state of affairs are clear enough from the report; the head, the remaining governors and the staff have a great deal of work to do together to win back the confidence of their community. Less explicit is Nottinghamshire's own culpability.

The questions being asked last autumn were about the powers of an education authority to intervene when faced with school closure. The question now suggested by its own report is how it allowed matters to deteriorate so far at Manton juniors without stepping in earlier? The area officer was clerk to the governing body and was clearly aware of the "tensions" that had arisen and had offered advice. There were other signs too that all was not well.

Did Nottinghamshire miss the signs of breakdown of trust between head and governors? Did it see nothing unusual in them? Or did it really believe it had no power to act? And will other education authorities reading this report, like many heads and governors, conclude, "There but for the Grace of God go we."

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