Head's role must not be confused

7th November 1997 at 00:00
Mark Whitehead explains the growing opposition to plans for all headteachers to become members of governing bodies

Heads and governors are opposed to plans to compel all headteachers to be members of their school's governing body - a move designed, according to the White Paper Excellence in Schools, to "bolster the partnership between heads and governors".

At present, only heads of grant-maintained schools are obliged to be governors, but the forthcoming education Bill is likely to make all heads become governors. The idea is that the flow of information between governors and head will be better and decision-making more effective. But headteachers disagree.

"The head is the lead professional in the school who should be advising the governors on the most effective ways of running the school," says Paul Hanbury, vice-chair of the National Association of Head Teachers' professional services committee. "There are situations where being a member of the governing body can lead to all sorts of conflicts. Good management is about avoiding conflict. Sometimes that can be achieved most effectively by the head taking a more independent position."

The most obvious example of such difficult situations would be when the governors want to make a decision which could be unpopular with the staff. The head's primary role is to advise them of the full implications of whatever they decide. As manager of the school, the head is in a unique position to know the likely effects, and the governors rely on his or her professional judgment.

The advantage in such situations of the head not being a full member of the governing body is that he or she can stand apart from the decision. The head can tell the staff, honestly, that it was the governors' decision.

The White Paper raises questions about the nature of thehead teacher's role. Should the head be a professional manager, answerable to the governing body, or a member of a management team including the governors? The Government appears undecided.

The White Paper makes much of the importance of leadership and the role of the head as manager. Yet in several places the consultation paper suggests something rather different.

The governors, it says, will be responsible for drawing up, implementing and monitoringthe school's performance targets as part of its strategic plan, and for the school's budget - two vital areas of management. The head, it says, is responsible for "supervising" the staff.

It also states that the head "must comply with any direction given by the governing body," a view rejected by the NAHT as being at odds with heads' terms and conditions set out by their pay review body. If the Government is considering such a change, it would be a big reduction in the head's managerial status.

Some governors appear to welcome the proposal for heads to be automatic members of the governing body. But others, according to the National Governors Council, see a possible conflict of interests in combining the two roles.

"There is a delicate balance to be struck between making the head the school's lead professional responsible for management and making him or her accountable to the governors," says Pat Petch, chair of the NGC. "If you are a member of the group to which you are accountable there could be confusion over the division of responsibilities."

The NAHT and the NGC support leaving things as they are, with the head's membership of the governing body remaining optional.

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