Rough justice needs reform

8th September 2006 at 01:00
In certain instances, school governors can be well-meaning, bungling amateurs. That may upset many people, but I believe for certain of their functions they should be replaced with independent adjudicators.

I know that many governors do an excellent job. Their commitment cannot be faulted and they willingly give up their valuable time to help the school, seeing it as part of their "good citizen" role to help the community.

However, does the complexity of many of the regulations in education these days preclude them from adjudicating on matters that are important to a teacher's pay or employment rights? I am concerned, too, that the cosy relationship many of them have with the headteacher means that they automatically side with him or her.

As a trade unionist, I represent many members at hearings involving governors. I am amazed at their attempts to wrestle with evidence presented to them. They also seem to have no idea of the rules of natural justice - as evidenced recently when they discussed a case with the head in his office before the formal hearing.

In four appeals I have taken on, involving the setting of new staff structures to replace the old management allowances with new teaching and learning responsibility points, all the members lost, despite strong cases.

The governors could not be persuaded that this lovely person, their head, would knowingly do anything wrong. The weight of evidence is ignored and there is an assumption the head is correct.

Teachers are disciplined, put into capability, made redundant and sometimes dismissed by panels of governors who have no idea of the relevant employment laws. I have taken three bullying cases against a head, suggesting there is a pattern of behaviour. But the governors would not concede that the considerate, helpful person who regularly has them to tea in his office would do such a thing.

Many governments have felt governors are the best people to decide as they know their school well. However, they do not know their education and employment law well.

The chair should be a member of the local education authority's personnel team, well versed in education and employment law. The wingmen should be a union representative and a head with some years of experience. Bias and propinquity would vanish and I suggest justice would be better served.

Jim Goodall is a retired science teacher and union activist

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