Joan Sallis answers your questions

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Some staff in our big comprehensive are unhappy about certain recent decisions, and are making life difficult. They contest the fact that not all staff in the right category were given extra pay through upgrading to UPS3, thinking this should be automatic. It was made difficult because all the staff eligible decided to stick together for wholesale increases.

Governors were satisfied that the head's recommendations were fair and that the teachers left out had not met the criteria, and it was not contested.

Staff governors could not legally take part in the decision, but they had no complaints.

Similar fuss was made about a panel reversing the head's recommendation for permanent exclusion of a student for supplying drugs. The panellists were conscientious and know this is normally an offence that deserves severe punishment, but they were satisfied on inquiry that the student, immature and of very low ability, had been manipulated and did not really understand what she was doing. Another outcry came when the panel judged that a teacher had provoked a boy facing permanent exclusion. Staff could not accept it. But these were rare cases - our members normally uphold disciplinary decisions. and investigations are very thorough. Our head has been rather unwell, and perhaps not performing to full capacity, and the staff have been getting at us because they believe the chair has been weak in not tackling her alleged failures.

You have three staff representatives who have accepted the decisions, and they have been elected by the whole staff. They would not have taken part in decisions on pay claims, but would have been in a position to challenge if they thought the criteria were not being properly applied. I am glad to hear increases have not been given regardless of merit, because the reverse complaint is common. The increases should be justified by, say, substantial and sustained support given to other staff. In the long run, It does not help teachers to ignore these criteria.

On the exclusions, your representatives seem to have done their job carefully, and if there is doubt it should surely operate in the child's favour. Allegations about the head's failings through health problems also seem out of order, given that you seem to judge when there is an issue. The head seems to have been strong and correct on the pay issue, and it is possible that the staff attitude is down to the dissatisfaction of some colleagues on that very subject.

Make sure staff governors feel free to speak their minds. It is not healthy to have unspoken concerns. You will then be on strong ground when you have to remind the rest that they have representation and must use it. I'm still left feeling uneasy about staff showing such widespread dissatisfaction.

There may be other issues with the head. I'm sure you will watch the situation. Remember that staff have had to cope with some unwelcome decisions in a short time.

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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