When a relationship sours

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions

This was a happy school with a friendly governing body. Our outstanding chair, in post for 18 months, has upset the head. She used to be co-operative but now seems the opposite.

It started with our Office for Standards in Education inspection last November. Our national test results are good - though seemingly with our intake they could be better. There was a hint that perhaps we were a little complacent. It is a school with a great buzz, lots of clubs, over-subscribed, good parent support. but the report did identify areas of weakness in leadership and management. The head is easy-going, and has seemingly been too soft on staff who need chasing. I don't think it was the report which upset her, but the way our chairman ran a one-man crusade for school improvement. Though he really cares about the school he has spent his whole life in business and only knows one way to get results. But he isn't getting anywhere, admits that the relationship is very bad, and is ready to resign. The other governors think the world of the head and respect our chair, but say he's become very sharp and critical.

Clearly this meeting of business and school cultures has had wholly negative results, but the worst aspect of it is that only two people are involved.

Your head is alone with her tormentor, thechair alone with his crusade. Other staff should feel they have ownership of the school improvement agenda. Other governors must put their own more tolerant stamp on that agenda.

As you have a good understanding of your chair you should talk this out with him first, and whether he resigns or not, it seems vital to establish action both among the staff and in the governing body. Maybe, at first, a focus less direct than the pursuit of shortcomings will better suit the situation - some stimulating project which will involve the whole school and use the strengths of the staff who need chasing.

If your chair could be completely honest with your head, admit failure and seek a fresh start, it would disarm her. If he then referred to the warm feelings of other governors towards her it would probably be the best thing to happen to her for a long time. If he was determined to bring those feelings to the table by setting up some kind of task force, I don't think she'd want him to resign. Best of all would be if he could accept that he took the OFSTED criticisms out of context.

If you accept that weaknesses in a school go back to certain deficits in the leadership, you also have to accept that the good things about it must reflect strengths from the same source. It's that context which your chair seems to have missed.

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