When stability can turn into stagnation;Governors

6th March 1998 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

Q. Ours is a large primary school, three- form entry with nursery, so we have 30 teachers. Our head is well respected, old-fashioned and, I would say, rather timid. In relation to governors she is friendly though I suspect we are not as involved as many others. For instance, we don't play any part in teacher appointments. Apart from three first appointments to replace class teachers who retired, there has not been an appointment from outside the school in any governor's memory, and that covers some years.

Oh yes, we advertise, but somehow the head is always very pleased to tell us that Mrs X from our own staff was the perfect candidate. The head herself has been in the school all but three years of her teaching career. She is proud of the stability of the staff, that teachers are so happy with us, and that when it comes to promotion we can invariably fill those vacancies with excellent people from within. We have many times wondered if this is healthy.

Now after our Office for Standards in Education inspection we are sure it isn't, because the inspectors criticised the fact that almost no real use was made of curriculum leaders and much of the teaching was unimaginative. Parents seem to care only about stability and reasonably small classes, which we have.


Not healthy at all. Often local education authorities blame governors for timid appointing policies and unwillingness to pass over internal candidates, but in your case governors are not the culprits.

I know stability is much valued, but too much stability robs the school of the stimulus of new ideas and staff of the challenge of competition. Of course class teachers will be reluctant to seek fresh experience too when they know they have such good chances of promotion if they hang about. I'm surprised your local authority has not tried to intervene. At least the OFSTED report gives you an opening to voice your concerns and it might be a good idea if your local authority, at least for a time, could spare a subject inspector from their own staff to advise on middle-management appointments.

But in addition, you as governors really should be involved in all appointments. They are our responsibility and although it is legal to delegate in any way we together decide, it is not good practice. I think the best plan is a rota which involves all governors in turn if possible, at least one for each basic teaching appointment and two for each curriculum leader post. Ask for appointments procedures to be on the agenda as a response to OFSTED and have a clear discussion and clearly recorded decisions.

I suspect that your head herself after so long in one school may be unaware of the scope for using curriculum leaders fully. It is vital that in choosing them weight is given to management potential, not just class teaching skill, and that they are subject to clear expectations that they monitor teaching quality and have the in-service training and the non-contact time to guide, update, inspire and evaluate the work of others.

I would guess that a high proportion of your staff could benefit from observing good teaching elsewhere. What sort of professional development is available for them? Do curriculum leaders attend phase and subject panels, go to conferences and have means of keeping up-to-date in their subjects?

I would strongly suspect that in a school in this situation all the staffing strength possible will be devoted to keeping down the size of teaching groups, which of course we all want but not at the expense of teaching skills. Not everybody is going to like your new look but when difficulties arise remember what I always say about shutting your eyes and thinking hard about the children.

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