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Tightrope walk of loyalties

For 20 years the "stakeholder model" of governance has determined who sits at the governing body table. Local authority, parent, community, staff and, where applicable, faith interests are represented. One group is both governor and employee. Staff representatives can find themselves walking a tightrope, with loyalties stretched all ways.

The notion of representation has long been debated in the higher echelons of governance. In an ideal world, the staff governor is expected to approach decisions from the perspective of the staff, but to cast their vote in the light of the presented evidence.

Often the evidence presented by the headteacher may, in the staff governor's view, be skewed or partial. Loyalty to the head is expected. Indeed, being disloyal to the head in a governing body meeting could potentially blight a career. This fear may be real or perceived, but nevertheless is a strain on loyalty. In the staffroom, given that staff governors are elected, the notion of representation may be interpreted differently - that is, to represent the views of the staff - and loyalty to colleagues may be expected.

Given these divided loyalties, safe territory for staff governors is often reporting on things such as outdoor activities, healthy schools awards, or provision for pupils with special needs. Improvement plans which affect the working lives of staff are particularly difficult areas for staff governors to navigate, and this is where loyalties are stretched to breaking point. A perceived change to the working environment will excite some and lead others to mumble about "change for change's sake".

Walking the tightrope, keeping loyalties intact and maintaining the respect of head, staff and governors alike is a challenge. The key to addressing this is loyalty to the most important stakeholders - the pupils.

Carol Woodhouse, Member of the board of directors, the National Governors' Association.

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