A governing body faces some tough decisions when its school fails an inspection. Angela Swire describes how her board was stripped of its powers after calling in the LEA.
THE first inspection report on our school scolded us for not trying hard enough. It criticised a number of aspects, from the
senior management down to the extremely bad behaviour of the pupils in and out of the classroom. The inspectors reprimanded us for not keeping an eye on the budget and for failing to be "a critical friend" - serious weaknesses. So we closed ranks and, together one sunny
Saturday, agreed on an action plan that we felt sure would make it all right again.
Now, a year later, Her Majesty's Inspectors were back to see if their orders had been carried out. The tension level in the staff room was way off the scale. It was obvious from the hushed conversations that the governors and even some of the teachers felt that the inspectors would not be satisfied with progress.
Our shoulders drooping with the guilt of having failed to give our students an acceptable standard of education, the school was put on special measures. Word of the condemnation came to us not from the chair of governors or headteacher, but in a late-night telephone call from a newly-elected parent governor. She said rumours were spreading around the playground among the children and support staff.
By the time of the official announcement, the troops had given up all pretence of rallying and the irate parent-governor refused to be calmed. She was not alone in feeling relieved when we decided, as a board, to hand over the running of the school to the education authority.
The knowledge that we had tried offered some measure of consolation, but it was obvious we lacked the expertise and resources to deal with the weaknesses within the school and improve the dire examination results. Last year, less than 19 per cent of the pupils gained five A* to C grade GCSE passes - at its highest the figure was only 21 per cent.
The LEA gave assurances before the handover that the governing body would be a party to all discussions and decisions and this was comforting, but we soon discovered that the reality was somewhat different. The ink had barely dried on this treaty of
collaboration before a meeting was convened to discuss the
"resignation" of the headteacher to "pursue a new career direction", and to consider the appointment of an acting head.
As the meeting progressed it became obvious we were being presented with a fait acompli. Feathers were ruffled and the LEA's director of education tried to soothe them, but gave up when a staff governor pointed out that the playground gossip-line had been ringing with the name of the "acting headteacher" for days. Had someone decided to tear up the governors-LEA
discussion agreement without telling the governors?
The debate that followed this revelation was highly-charged and so emotional that the chair was forced to demand a promise that, for the sake of the school, we put up a united front outside the meeting room. Every word uttered during the discussion was to remain confidential.
The penny had finally dropped. The LEA was now in charge and, intentional or not, the governing body had become superfluous to the decision-making process - merely "little puppets that stamp and approve", according to one. The result? The resignation of two very experienced members who cited their reasons for leaving as the failure of the LEA to liaise effectively with the school, its governing body and chair.
Moreover, they felt that the governing body had a pistol to its temple, and little chance to talk through issues of extreme importance. The decision to hand over our responsibilities for
personnel and financial matters to the LEA has also affected the staff, with vacancies now running into double figures - 27 at the last count and rising. The LEA advisers appear a little chastened and are promising to behave better next time - only time will tell, and our experiences have destroyed trust.
The new two-year action plan has been drawn up and agreed. It's interesting that among the many objectives designed to bring the school up to scratch there is one which aims to develop the role of the governing body and improve communication between the governors, parents and staff. Very commendable, but it has come a little too late for those of us who are now talking about perhaps devoting their time to some other cause that is not an affront to our professionalism.