Headteachers and their deputies will be forced to leave governors' meetings during discussions about the new arrangements for setting performance targets upon which their pay rises will depend.
Until now, those present at governors' meetings have only been prevented from speaking on matters in which they have a financial interest. But in a recent letter to schools, the Department for Education and Employment makes it clear that governing bodies can no longer let heads and deputies even listen to discussions about how they should be paid. Now, anyone with a vested interest in a matter "must physically leave the meeting" when it is under discussion.
The move is likely to further strain relations between heads and governors which, according to The TES survey published last week, are already under pressure.
A DFEE source said the success of the new regulation, which came into effect at the beginning of the month, would hinge on how it was interpreted. Headteachers and deputies should be involved in agreeing criteria for merit pay with governors.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: "The heads have every right to present their case for enhanced remuneration. If this is going to take place in the governing body there has to be a discussion as there is a legal requirement for agreement."
Bev Curtis, director of Educational Personnel Management, the privatised personnel department of Cambridgeshire education authority, said the change in the rules was a wake-up call to governors. He said governors should set the parameters for merit pay as soon as possible.
Walter Ulrich, information officer for the National Association of Governors and Managers, welcomed the ruling. He said it was a clarification of the rules made after Lord Nolan's investigation into standards in public life.