The recent explosion of formal grievances has left many heads feeling painted as the accused in a formal process when a quiet word might have settled things. The law of unintended consequences yet again.
The legislative intention behind grievance procedures was that fewer cases should reach employment tribunals, so access to tribunal is effectively denied unless a grievance has been raised first. Unfortunately, logic dictates that union representatives should raise formal grievances early. Since the grievance has to be put in writing and indicate the areas of grievance, the resulting letter looks like a charge sheet.
The most common grievances cluster round aggressive management, described as bullying and harassment. Such allegations may arise from genuinely excessive downward pressure for results. Or where a teacher regards himself as self-managing and any pressure as somehow illicit. Or where a manager, untrained in managing people, oscillates between the gentle meaningless hint and the full-blast Sir Alan Sugar.
Grievances must be handled by the book, particularly when the complaint is against the head. Well-meaning informal interventions can simply give away a case. A transparently fair investigation must be carried out and the complaint addressed in an appropriate meeting. It's important to remember, however, that the purpose is not judgement but reconciliation; and governors need to be trained to aim for this.
The new Employment Bill will bring changes, but the fundamental principles will remain. Grievances are here to stay. However, the process works for heads as well. They too are entitled to raise grievances against governors; and this can help with chairs who are over-reaching.
Richard Bird, Legal consultant to the Association for School and College Leaders.