Governors run the gauntlet between fair and foul

28th January 2000 at 00:00
I START from the conviction that the more visible that governors' decisions are to both parents and staff, the better the school runs.

The good governing body listens, takes a lot of trouble in crisis situations to explain to parents and staff what its options are, and tells them afterwards how it has made its choices. This builds trust and helps to win acceptance for when difficult decisions must be made. There are times when the privacy of individuals or their right to an unbiased appeal against a decision must be paramount, but these are the exceptions.

When the Crown Woods parents approached me, I told them I thought the governors had been unwise to discourage them from coming to a full meeting to express their understandable concerns about budget constraints, and reminded them that it was the whole governing body (not the education authority and not individuals) who had to make the decision whether to receive observers or a deputation.

It is the authority's job to remind governors of any risks - for example, if the decision they have to make may result in an appeal. As I understand it, this was the worry which led Greenwich to advise against discussions with the whole body.

I amsure that all concerned acted with the interests of the school at heart. And if redundancies were already in prospect and names - or at least areas of work - were to be named, I should support caution. But, as I understand it, the issue was a prospect of staff losses over time - mainly by natural wastage.

While making just as much of an impact on the school, and causing just as many fears among parents, this didn't risk the fair treatment of individuals, and I think the parents should have been given a hearing and a statement of the problem - as they were later on - while feelings ran high.

I said "hearing" because I don't accept the implication in Simon's statement that parents should have been able to observe the decision-making and witness how governors voted. We are not delegates, and privacy is essential to free debate and the acceptance of corporate responsibility.

I know from my own experience how stressful these situations are, how hard it is to make the right decision under pressure, and how tempting, if there is a risk-free way out, to take it. Yet my experiences also convince me that "it's good to talk".

Joan Sallis' regular Agenda column will be back next week.

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