Close the loopy loophole before scandal strikes

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Governors' desire for transparency must be acted upon to head off a future disaster

Imagine if a high-profile chief constable of a large Welsh police force was accused of firing one of his senior officers - perhaps one from an ethnic minority - while ignoring the mandatory processes of employment law. He had, it was alleged, simply told the man or woman to clear their desk, without giving an explanation.

Cue national outcry. Complaints would be made; multiple inquiries held. But, most importantly, transparent and independent procedures would almost certainly be followed while investigating the chief constable's actions.

What would happen if these processes were not acted upon? What would happen if, instead of being forced to follow a particular route in order to ascertain guilt or innocence, the aforementioned chief constable had simply been allowed to gather around him his other senior officers to act as unaccountable judge and jury? It sounds like a plotline from The Sweeney or Life On Mars, does it not? Corrupt coppers - possibly with a Masonic bent - concealing their misdemeanours with the connivance of their colleagues? Public confidence would be shot to pieces.

While comparing Wales' admirable cohort of school governors to a Gene Hunt-esque character is, admittedly, a little over the top, it is essential for Welsh education mandarins to realise that transparency in process must always be a top priority. It is not as if school systems are completely immune from widespread disgust - one only has to glance over the Irish Sea to find levels of public loathing that make 1970s London's relationship with the Met look cordial. There is no need to go into details of the abuse cover-up here.

So when Welsh governors make clear, as they are now, the need to reform bizarre and arcane rules that allow them to hand down judgments on themselves (page 4), it is a good idea for the powers that be to listen to their admirable arguments.

One member of support body Governors Wales put the argument succinctly: "If this ever happened, we could be accused of a whitewash. It's farcical."

The argument is two-fold. First, no one should be in any doubt that just one case would be enough to throw the entire gubernatorial system this side of the Severn into disarray. Questions would be asked in the Assembly.

This scenario would be even worse if the governors in question were found to be engaged in a cover-up. It is hard to estimate how long it would take to rebuild public confidence. Solving the shortage of public-minded folk prepared to serve on school boards would become an even more impossible task.

Second, the mere existence of a loophole, whether or not it's used, could be hugely damaging. A lay observer coming at this cold would be astonished. The potential for insinuation and suspicion is, frankly, endless.

This is not a complicated debate, nor should a solution be difficult. Change these extraordinary rules before something distasteful is allowed to happen and the Welsh schools system lives to regret it.

Ed Dorrell, News editor, The TES E

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