Joan Sallis answers your questions

25th February 2005 at 00:00
We are three angry and confused staff governors, two teachers and the office manager in a big comprehensive. We have many problems which we feel should be dealt with in the governing body but our head has made it clear that we may not raise anything of consequence without consulting him and, as he always refuses to agree, it is a waste of time.

We should appreciate your view on some of the things which are being concealed from governors, and more generally on whether the head can muzzle us this way. It is not a happy school at all and the other governors are living in fairyland when they are only told what the head chooses.

Here we go. One of our colleagues is going through a disciplinary process.

Most staff think she is being victimised. It concerns one of several students with serious behavioural problems who are disrupting classes. We have no special unit: the LEA has a special school but the worst of these cases have not even been assessed because parents fear labelling, and the head brushes aside the resulting severe teaching problems.

He does not want to lose numbers (which are falling anyway because our exam results are deteriorating - the governors have not been fully informed about this). Parents are not told of many things which are worrying about the school, eg the numbers of short-term exclusions, the staff turnover, serious bullying. Our office staff governor is under pressure to keep quiet about dissatisfaction with workload - he won't spend money on admin staff.

No other governors have the guts to raise this. Please help us. You have always been a great friend to staff governors.

This is a dreadful story and I would guess your head is a very worried man who needs help. He is an example of a (small, I hope) number who reacts by refusing it. It is wrong and short-sighted of a head to force silence on staff governors, but all staff ought to stick together on their right to be represented, and where matters are of proper concern to governors the whole governing body ought also to be firm about having them discussed.

These include details of all exclusions, demand for places, SEN policies, behaviour guidelines and office workload - for starters, and with local education authority help where needed. These are major issues. It is not fair to leave you alone with them.

But on just one issue you must be clear about what governors can deal with and when. Since the 2002 Act, a disciplinary inquiry involving a teacher can be carried out without governor involvement initially, but there must be provision for appeal to governors. They must then feel free to get the full facts and act without pressure.

A sensible head would want this anyway, with wrongful dismissal carrying such risks for school and LEA. The only other point is that although I think staff representatives must be free to raise any matters of concern which are within governors' remit, it is both courteous and wise to inform the head first. Heads should not have controversy sprung on them publicly.

I think yours is a very serious situation - and by its nature worsening, and one on which your education authority might have to act sooner rather than later. In the first instance, the three of you must inform your chair of what is amiss, and I hope he or she is brave enough to insist that all the policy issues - listed in my second paragraph - are put on the agenda and frankly discussed, and make it clear that the staff governors must be free to contribute. (And the Government talks about abolishing annual reports to parents!) Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX.Fax 020 7782 3202, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert where answers will appear.

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