Power could go to their heads

9th February 2001 at 00:00
Unions fear that governor reforms will leave staff more vulnerable to managers' whims. Karen Thornton reports

Classroom unions warn that ministers' plans to reform school governing bodies risk giving headteachers the power of "judge and jury" over staff.

Ministers want to reduce the involvement of governors in disciplinary, grievance and capability procedures in an attempt to cut down on bureaucracy.

But the three main classroom unions said the move would leave teachers more vulnerable to capricious decisions by heads.

The Church of England also has "some hesitations" about a reduced role for governors in staff appointments. The majority of governors in voluntary-aided schools represent the church.

Canon John Hall, general secretary of its board of education, said: "We need good people who are going to be clearly supportive of the school's mission."

Michael Power, deputy director of the Catholic education service, said governors often provided an "insurance policy" for the head, and that the current practice seemed to work well.

The Department for Education and Employment is consulting on plans to reduce the involvement of governors in personnel matters, including appointments, to ease their workload and allow them to concentrate on strategic planning.

The proposals have been welcomed by the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers, but governors argued that staffing decisions were a key pat of their strategic role.

John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"Teachers should be confident that there will be more than one person (involved) in such important issues as being put on capability procedures, or where there's a prospect of dismissal."

"Dismissal of a teacher is a significant matter for a school, and it should not be the case that the governing body is involved only at an appeal - particularly when it could be answerable at an employment tribunal."

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said too much power was being given to heads.

"Quite apart from the personnel issues, weakening the accountability of schools and heads is a step very much in the wrong direction."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, added: "Heads need some external body to be accountable to, in their own interests as well as ours. Governors are the only body left, given the diminishing role of local education authorities."

* The Office for Standards in Education and the Audit Commission, a financial watchdog, have warned that governors' often "anxious" dependence on education authorities leaves them unable to challenge school managers to improve standards.

Governors, 27 Local Education Support for School Improvement, price pound;12.95, is available from the Stationery Office, tel:0870 600 5522

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