Do not limit powers to suspend heads

15th March 1996 at 00:00
Governors must resist the demands of David Hart (TES, March 1) for their powers of suspension of headteachers to be changed and, presumably, limited.

Governing bodies have overall responsibility for the education of all students at their schools. We are accountable to parents at annual meetings in a way not required of any other unpaid volunteers in public life. The vast majority of those responsibilities are discharged through the headteacher and it is she who must answer to the governing body if they are not carried out. Ultimately, therefore, a governing body must have the power of suspension.

While there may be some merit in having a code of practice, I am not sure that the proposals outlined (TES, February 2) will do much to help avoid an occasional misuse of the power of suspension.

Many safeguards already exist. The Education Reform Act 1988, Schedule 3, gives governing bodies - not the chair - the power of suspension. The penalties for acting without the support of the local education authority could be very onerous in financial terms on the school's budget if the case is eventually lost. Similarly, chairmen who suspend without the support of their governing body may find themselves personally liable for damages. These should be sufficient to prevent frivolous action.

Consultation with the local education authority at an early stage is crucial although I recognise that this may be difficult where the headteacher has built up a cosy relationship with them over many years.

A code of practice, whether advisory or mandatory, may only be of limited benefit in setting out some broad principles. It is unlikely ever to be comprehensive enough to cover all circumstances.

D G BACKHOUSE Chairman Governing body 20 Airlie Gardens Ilford Essex

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