'Untalented teachers' hamper infants' reading progress;Agenda;Governors

13th March 1998 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

Q.

Our 5-11 primary school has a strong junior department but the early years have weak leadership (the head of infants is also acting deputy head), and two class teachers out of three whom the governors and most parents consider untalented. The general view is that reading could be much better. How do we proceed?

A.

Hard to answer unless you give me more backing for the words "the general view" and the descriptions of three members of staff. It would be simple if you had an OFSTED report criticising reading, or poor test results on a value-added basis. But your key stage 1 tests don't seem bad by comparison with many inner-city schools, and I guess from the area that a minority of concerned parents may have very high expectations - not that I criticise that - and may underrate teachers' problems.

However I am always saying that governors must raise expectations. I am also always saying that governors must remember that most problems will have to be overcome with the help of the people who are there now. I assume nevertheless that you are proceeding to the appointment of a deputy with all speed: that could make a big difference.

If you have a peg to hang your concerns on (such as an inspection report) there is no problem about the governors asking for reading standards to be discussed. If not you can always ask for reading to be specially inspected, either by your own local authority or an outside inspector (can you afford this?). If what you say about the school as a whole is true there will be strong support from the teachers further up for improving the standard. But like you they may need some independent corroboration.

Reading policy is an aspect of the curriculum so fundamental that it should certainly be considered a matter for governors and indeed the general parent body to be concerned about. If there is a problem do not be fobbed off with territorial attitudes on such an issue. But do remember that the professional performance of teachers is a matter within the head's responsibility, though of course one on which she is accountable to you. You need to know what questions to ask and what sort of strategic interventions are possible. Perhaps you need a small working party of governors on raising reading standards to study some of these issues and to become familiar with the present policy. If you have no formal arrangements for parents to support their children's reading at home that is a way forward, since much research in deprived areas has shown it to be startlingly effective.

Do be positive. Few situations are so bad that there are not things to praise. And people can improve.

Q.

As chair of our finance committee I suspect that the head's reluctance to provide what I consider proper transparent accounts for the school fund conceals something more. I think I know where the (very trivial) leakage is and it involves another senior staff member. I'm not sure whether the head suspects him. Is it really so important? It isn't public money.

A.

Yes, it is important. The Audit Commission has made it crystal clear that it considers unofficial school funds should be treated as public money. As far as local authority auditors are concerned I think there was a bit of a honeymoon after LMS came in (on sloppiness only, not malpractice) because so many school funds were messy, but now we do have to present them in a way which auditors and parents can understand. You must get the funds in order and if you suspect something dishonest it is your duty to tackle it. Discuss it with your head and find out what he suspects. I'm sure your local authority will be helpful.

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