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Union claims lack of code caused crisis

Dorothy Lepkowska and Michael Prestage report on power struggles entangling chief education officers, heads and governors. Parents organising petitions in the playground, public meetings, a governors' inquiry and local newspaper headlines about failing teaching methods - the headteacher of Y Bontfaen county primary school in Cowbridge, South Glamorgan, has endured them all recently.

According to the National Association of Head Teachers, which is representing the head, Susan Dodd, the crisis should have been averted. The union says the inertia of the governors and the local education authority created the problems, and that unless they are resolved the head could resort to legal action.

The association believes Y Bontfaen could have been helped by a code of practice on how to deal with parents' complaints. Instead, it says, incalculable damage has been done to the morale of staff, who are backing the head.

Ms Dodd is being represented by Anne Hovey, the NAHT's regional officer for Wales, who says such cases are on the increase. Governors, she feels, are frequently not equipped to deal with complaints.

"When a complaint comes in, it tends to be greeted with a knee-jerk reaction by governors," she says. "Also there tend to be a number of parent-governors who grab their new-found rights with a vengeance. The head and staff are often considered in the wrong without any proper procedures being gone through. "

She believes the roles of heads and governors should be clearly defined. Increasingly, governors are encroaching on such matters as the organisation of classes. A code of practice could fill this gap.

Y Bontfaen school illustrates her point, she says. Here, some parents called a public meeting complaining about standards in maths and reading. The head and staff were not invited. And the written complaints that were then submitted to the governors precipitated the crisis.

The governors set up a subcommittee to consider the complaints. No staff member was called to the hearing and the head was only given 30 minutes - the same time as each of the 29 complainants.

Ms Hovey says that the committee produced a biased critical draft report - currently being reconsidered - without considering any documentation from the school and without any advice from the education authority on the curriculum.

She considers that the governors have undermined the head.

"What we have seen here," said Ms Hovey, "is a complaint handled without any proper procedures in place and without any professional input."

The NAHT now wants the LEA to oversee any inquiry.

Michael Prestage

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