Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

5th December 2003 at 00:00
We have been having a problem with a newly-appointed head in our voluntary-aided C of E primary school. I am vice-chair and chair of the parent-teacher association. I was on the head's appointment panel so I accept some responsibility, but she seemed to have an awful lot of new ideas to offer and certainly did not reveal herself to be the non-listening, blinkered person she turned out to be.

She has been with us for nearly a year and the school has become an unhappy place. Parents feel they are merely a convenience, providing the children, getting them to school with everything the rule-book says and disciplining them, raising funds and advertising what a good school it is.

The only trouble is it isn't any more. There is muttering at the gate that parents are never consulted about changes, that complaints go unanswered, that she only wants the money they raise.

The staff have become a muttering unco-operative element, will not do clubs and outings and say decisions are not fair. As for governors, we are presented with fait accompli on every school policy, discouraged from discussing any item of business and always told her plans instead of discussing them freely as we used to.

She intends to reorganise three classes of infants into two groups, which staff and parents hate, and will not listen to any questions we ask. I have spoken to our chair, the vicar, who has no idea how to proceed.

I wish appointment panels would dig deeper into attitudes and values when interviewing. You have to invent tough scenarios of school conflict and distress as examples to get at the truth. But it is by no means insoluble now.

You must make your expectations quite clear and take hold of the organisation of your own work and papers to ensure that you get basic proposals brought to you long before there is commitment to them on the head's part, insisting that there is genuine consultation with parents also, and that this ripples through the layers of the school community.

Your head is embarking on a disaster course and it would be a kindness to interrupt it.

Could you and the vicar - you in your role as PTA chair - talk to her and describe how much more acceptable change and upheaval can be when the issues are shared from the outset?

Do not feel it is a hopeless task - she sounds very immature and will in time see the mutinous school she nearly settled for and its alternatives. A school community cannot in the end be driven: it depends too much on the consent and co-operation of all its elements.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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