Coded messages are not enough

21st April 1995 at 01:00

An inspection by the local education authority was rightly highly critical of our school's poor management. This has now been reinforced by a separate A

OFSTED verdict that teetered on the edge of declaring the school to be failing. Yet we have still been unable to prove that the head is incompetent.

The procedures are loaded against the governing body and the interests of the whole school. It reminds me of that Labyrinth game where you have to guide a ball along a maze. If the ball falls down a hole, you have to wait a turn and start again.

The LEA said that we had to go through standard procedures to determine the head's incompetence before we could consider dismissal. Fair enough. But one of our first procedural mistakes nearly invalidated the whole proceedings. A friend summed it up. "You have to understand," she said, "that they are the professionals and we are the amateurs. They are just waiting to catch you out."

I naively believed that in the education service the aim of helping every child get a good education would override professional loyalties. I had underestimated how hard professionals find it to put into writing what they are prepared to say in private about a fellow professional. The trouble lies not so much with the LEA officers - and I cannot speak too highly of our governor co-ordinator, who has done everything possible to help us - but with the advisers who have to make the professional judgments.

It is one thing to write a generalised inspection report which includes coded messages, perfectly clear to those in the know. Unfortunately, coded messages don't hold water at an industrial tribunal. Having to say publicly that Ms X just can't cut it goes against all their inclinations, it seems.

Our chief adviser is a former head who had bad experiences with a governing body. So it is not surprising that instinctively this adviser sympathised with the head and suspected us of being unreasonable. A friend at a church school says the problem is compounded there because of the Christian ethos that focuses on the needs of the transgressor.

Within our school, collecting evidence was more difficult than expected. Only one or two members of staff were willing to say openly what many had been muttering in corners about how hopeless the head was. We did not altogether blame those who were not prepared to testify. We had seen our head in action and knew what happened when someone was out of favour. A head can have a very damaging effect not just on a teacher's future career, but also on their day-to-day work.

Staff soon became aware that something was going on between the governors and the head. We thought we were being really careful but it was not long before rumours were flying about. This is hard to avoid when the school office is bound to be in the know and the teacher-governors, however discreet, can't help giving some of the game away.

People began to think about their own interests. Maybe a new head would make their life more stressful. What about that promotion that the head was hinting at the other day? Do we staff really want governors to wield this kind of power?

Then some governors began to get anxious about their liabilities if the case went wrong. As chair, I was unable and unwilling to act without their authority, and equally unable to tell them the whole truth because that would taint their impartiality in any appeal hearing.

Luckily, several governors knew the school well and were prepared to back me. We have learned an unpalatable truth. No matter how dedicated and informed governors may be, they are unlikely to be a match for a devious, manipulative, unscrupulous, untruthful head backed by a union which knows all the legal dodges. But we have not given up yet.

The author writes anonymously for legal reasons

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today