There's no easy way out

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Learning to let staff go is one of the most unpleasant tasks a governor can face.

I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Yet over the next few months hundreds, perhaps thousands, of governing bodies throughout the country will be going through a procedure to make a teacher (or teachers) redundant.

Whether your school is a large comprehensive which needs to lose 10 teachers out of 70 or a rural primary which has to lose one out of seven, it is going to be painful. And I mean really painful. It is the staff of course, who suffer the most but many governors feel torn apart by a role they did not expect to perform.

From our experience, there are some ways of easing the pain and pressure on governors. Ask for, and make sure you get, all the help and advice you need. Your education personnel department has done this before probably several times and should help you through every step of the procedure.

Follow their advice and don't be tempted to cut corners or make assumptions.The personnel department may be able to offer a training session for the whole governing body. If so, book one quickly the rise in governors' confidence after such a session can be remarkable.

Governors should be warned that each will feel as if he or she is in purdah. One (probably the chair) may be assigned to support the head in nominating the teacher or teachers. Some will be assigned to the dismissal panel and others to the hearing or appeals panel. Once you have also ensured that you have some people in reserve, it is likely that you will have used up every governor you've got. Because each must behave impartially and without prior knowledge of the issues, none of them can talk to another about the procedure.

For a group of people who are used to tackling things as a team this seems unhelpful, even bizarre, but the responsibility for someone else's career and livelihood should be sufficient reminder to all to follow the rules.

The suggestion may seem ridiculous, but do try, as far as possible, to carry on as normal. Staff will feel utterly deserted if governors stop their involvement in school routine. So make sure that the working parties keep working, those who help with reading turn up as usual and the governors' pigeonholes are emptied. Keep the governors' visits going too though perhaps this is the time to look at outdoor play or school lunches, rather than be seen as an observer in the classroom.

Though governors may manage to behave as normal, they should not expect teachers to do the same. Be prepared for emotion, of all kinds, and treat staff with particular sensitivity whenever you meet them. The chair needs to ensure that staff are kept well informed throughout the procedure but there are things they are not allowed to know and this should be honestly stated. "I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to tell you that" is a much better response than a blustering non-answer in the manner of a second-rate politician.

Consider the possibility of starting a new governors' project. It may help both staff and governors to be involved in something positive which everyone can see has real benefits for the children. This has the added advantage that it gives governors something else to talk about and so removes the temptation to discuss the one thing they should not be talking about.

Those governors who sit on either of the panels carry a heavy responsibility. Be constantly aware of your own independence and never be tempted to ratify the head's decision simply because it was made by the head. Equally, don't assert your independence for the sake of it. Take time over your decision, ask lots of questions and be prepared for a long and gruelling session. Remember, it's even more gruelling for the teacher.

No governor can reach the end of a redundancy procedure feeling good about it. The best you can hope for is that you feel you did it properly, fairly and with sensitivity. Hold on to that and you and your school will come out the other side.

The writer is a governor in East Anglia

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