More than nodding acquaintances

27th January 1995 at 00:00
Pat Petch answers those who want new limits on governors' powers. Every governor knows that the key to success is to be found in working together. As one wrote recently: "The art of working together may be delicate, but it is also fruitful".

This involves governors and the head openly discussing and agreeing the nature of their all-important working relationship. For unless it is one based on mutual trust and respect, problems are bound to arise.

David Hart (TES, January 20) writes that "governors are happy to exercise power but less happy to take responsibility when things go wrong". Not much mutual trust and respect there.

Any heads approaching their governors with such an attitude should ask themselves if their governors see them in a similar light.

It is likely that such a head will find it hard to see him or herself as part of the problem. It is tempting to think the solution rests in redefining responsibilities; in believing that all that is needed is a definitive list of who does what to resolve the difficulties and conflicts in governing bodies. But it is not that easy; a list will not paper over the cracks in a poor relationship.

It is fashionable to use business terms to describe the working relationship between governors and head. Last week David Hart likened the head to a chief executive answerable to a board of directors.

What an arid description. A head is far more than an executive officer defending administrative demarcation lines. Whatever happened to the head as educator and leading professional - the role for which he or she was valued and respected?

The relationship David Hart describes harks back to the days of nodding acquaintance between heads and governors with governors doing the nodding when heads spoke. Such a relationship is not fruitful and tends to exacerbate rather than resolve conflict. The roles and responsibilities of heads and governors are already well-defined within a framework which gives governors a strategic overview and the head, day-to-day management.

On many issues the governing body is required "to exercise functions with a view to securing" while the head has "to secure" whatever it is that has to be done.The success of the relationship is determined by the way in which the governing body and head work at the interface. Simply moving that interface will not improve a poor relationship.

Whatever attempts are made to redefine roles and responsibilities more precisely, each governing body will still have to work through the critical relationship with its headteacher. If we must use business terms to define this, what's wrong with a partnership which implies that we should be working together co-operatively rather than separately. It may be a delicate art but the results are enhanced where those involved take time and make the effort to talk about how they can best work together.

Pat Petch is vice-chair of the National Governors' Council.

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