Committees of the uncommitted;Briefing;Live Issues

17th December 1999 at 00:00
Governors will bring the staff appeal system into disrepute if they fail to take their responsibilities seriously, says Marcus Long, a teacher governor RECENTLY I have twice appeared before appeals

committees of our school's governing body, and on both

occasions I have been disappointed and dismayed at the experience.

On the first occasion I challenged our governors' decision on my claim for an extra allowance for my special needs work. On the second, as one of the school's union representatives, I assisted a colleague in her appeal over her claim for retrospectivepay. On both occasions the committee upheld the governors' original decision - and an appeal committee's decision is final.

The dismay is not, however, over the decisions - disappointed though we were at the outcome. Our concern is over the manner and spirit in which the appeal was conducted.

On both occasions we had done our homework.At my colleague's appeal, we presented a carefully argued case supported by written evidence which included witness statements, statistics and rebuttals of points made by governors in their decision to reject her claim. Much of the evidence we produced was new and highly relevant. We believed it to be decisive.

Our opponents - the headteacher and the governor chairman of the committee which had rejected her claim - presented no new evidence nor did they seem to feel any need to rebut our evidence or our arguments. To me, their body-language communicated indifference and boredom.

More seriously and worryingly to us, none of the three governor members of the committee cared to question our opponents about their decision nor, indeed, to question them about anything at all. While we were questioned, statements by the headteacher were allowed to pass unchallenged, though those statements were obviously questionable, as we attempted to show. No evidence was demanded of our opponents in support of their claims and no clarification demanded of points that clearly needed further explanation.

We left the committee room feeling that we had just gone through only the motions of an appeal. We felt that there had been no real intention of arriving at an independentdecision based on evidence or argument. We reluctantly concluded that the committee saw its function as a rubber-stamp for the governors' original decision.

If we are right, then this is not just a failure due to poor training or, more likely, no training. It's not just that our governors just don't know how to ask questions or the right kind of questions. There was, we felt, a distinct lack of will and of any recognition that the committee had an important matter before it.

Do such committees find it just too much to challenge and overturn their colleague's decisions? As a teacher-governor, I have observed that that is the case in other areas of governors' responsibilities.

If teachers believe that their appeals to governors are handled fairly, they will have no complaint about the outcome. But that requires a rigorous appeals procedure staffed by independent-minded governors trained to question and to scrutinise evidence and unafraid of overturning their colleagues' earlier decisions. As appellants, we have to say that if our experience is typical, we still have a long way to go before that ideal situation is reached.

Marcus Long teaches in the West

Country

The governors pages are taking a Christmas break and will be back in full on January 7.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, e-mail: joansallis@tes.co.uk, or fax 0171 782 32023205.

Any other views, opinions or information about governors should be sent to Karen Thornton at the address and fax numbers above, or emailed to karen.thornton@tes.co.uk

IN THE NEW YEAR: The Government's plans for governor training; governorship in Uganda; parent governors on education authority committees; and reviewing home-school agreements.

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