We have received a request to include one of the teacher governors on the staffing committee of this rather small grant-maintained school. Would this create conflict of interest in dealing with grievances, discipline and redundancy issues, especially if the teacher is a union representative and in discussions affecting the pay of individuals or groups of staff?
A This is something the governing body must determine for itself, but it must start from the premise that all governors are equal, with teacher governors having exactly the same rights and duties as the rest, with the sole exception that they are not allowed to take the chair, either of the full body or a committee.
The question of interest is often misunderstood. When used in this context, it refers to a direct personal interest, which is usually financial, in the matter under discussion. When such an interest exists, the person concerned should declare it and withdraw from the discussion - although withdrawal is only necessary when the interest of the individual is greater than that of the generality of those concerned.
To illustrate this, using the examples you quote, let us suppose the committee is discussing redundancy. In dealing with the general question of whether there should be any redundancy at all, the teacher governor's interest is no greater than that of the entire staff. If the decision reached affects the teacher governor's own subject area, then he or she has an interest and must withdraw.
In handling a disciplinary case, if the hearing might result in the dismissal of a teacher, for whose post the teacher governor might be an applicant, then an interest exists (or might be said by others to exist and be prejudicial), and a withdrawal is indicated.
Similarly, in considering pay, if a decision is one from which a teacher-governor may benefit by more than the generality of teachers in the school, then he or she should not take part.
These limitations are far from being a disqualification - it could be argued that the knowledge and experience of the teacher governor and the awareness of staff opinion which he or she brings to the governing body are particularly relevant and helpful to the work of a staffing committee.
The fact that a teacher governor is also a union representative is irrelevant. This teacher is elected by his or her staff, not union members, and sits as a governor with all the rights and duties of that office. If he or she behaves simply as a union representative in that context, the chairman would be entitled to point out that it is inappropriate.
Archimedes Questions should be sent to Helpline., The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org