Joan Sallis Answers your questions

5th November 2004 at 00:00
From time to time you get questions about teachers flaunting extra-marital and workplace affairs in schools, and you usually say there is nothing governors can do. I'm a teacher of the old school, and I have been very sad to see the change in standards. Setting an example doesn't seem to come into teaching any more. I have seen some very inappropriate behaviour, and I don't know how anyone can say it doesn't affect teaching. Old-style "prize-day platform only" governors would have been shocked, yet today's governing bodies just shrug their shoulders. I was prompted to write after reading an article in TES Friday magazine (October 15) showing how such things can affect schools.

I don't think governors are untroubled by these issues. Many governors who write to me are concerned and feel they should be doing something, realising that it is hard in a school community to hold the line between the personal and the professional. I'm not anxious to defend the status quo. Indeed, I am old-fashioned enough to feel children shouldn't have to deal with many family situations that have become commonplace. But many of them do, and schools reflect the world we live in, at least in the sense that some things that happen have the support (or at least the resigned acceptance) of society and public opinion. But I can't accept that pupils'

respect is won by standards that don't echo their daily experience. It's won by teaching skill, professional care, rigour and integrity.

That's why I have always taken seriously the word "flaunting" where it appears, because teachers' behaviour at work should be appropriate and not hurtful or harmful to other members of staff where a third party is involved.

Governors will often take their concerns to the head discreetly and be taken heed of or reassured. Mostly, there is no issue of wrongdoing in any contractual sense: if work is not being seriously affected, it's a management issue that today's heads deal with often. It would not involve governors formally unless the head's warnings went unheeded and there was evidence of performance being sufficiently affected to warrant disciplinary proceedings.

So it isn't fair to suggest that governors are indifferent just because they are not jumping up and down. Indeed, if they were jumping up and down on other purely management issues concerning teachers, teachers would be the first to complain. It is, indeed, one of the commonest frustrations of inexperienced governors that there's nothing they can do about reports at the school gate of the occasional teacher who is alleged to have trouble coping, not controlling the class, not being fair, punishing excessively, not marking homework, and so on. I've often had to calm them down, assure them that the head almost certainly knows and is dealing with it, but that in any case it's a management issue - and I say this only to underline the fact that most of the issues around sexual standards are just that.

The TES welcomes your queries, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers, and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. 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

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