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What to do when you fall out...

Virginia Makins on procedures to follow when governors disagree with their head. Ask any governor trainer, and chances are they will tell you that on virtually every course, a governor will corner them in the coffee break and ask: "How can we get rid of our incompetent head?" Bev Curtis, an education personnel consultant, says the first thing is to consider whether there is a proper relationship between the head and the governing body.

Some heads like to keep governors out of the management of the school: others want to involve them, but find it impossible. Both sides have to accept their responsibilities.

Governors will be much better informed about the school, staff morale, and other important indicators if they are genuinely involved in the life of the school. "A broad involvement of governors with a broad selection of staff mean that governors are better able to distinguish individual malcontents from a general malaise," says Mr Curtis.

Attaching governors to particular curriculum areas or other aspects of school life is a good way of doing it - but that has to go for all governors, if possible, not just a select group who could become a clique. If there are real worries about the head's competence, the chair, or a small group of governors, must talk to the head about it. "How do you want us to work with you?" can be a good question. If the message is "I don't" or "I don't know", that's a danger signal.

The development plan, and its priorities, is the best basis for discussion. A definite timetable for improvement, agreed by both sides, is the starting point for any future action. Always keep an informal note of all conversations, and send a copy to the head saying "This is what I thought we decided. Do you agree?" If he or she blames other staff, offer to come and sit in on staff meetings as a support. You should make sure there are clear structures for staff involvement, such as working parties and meetings with proper agendas and minutes. If you're involved, everyone will probably behave better. But if everything still seems hopelessly woolly, and nothing is happening, don't delay - bring in the local authority or another consultant for a management audit. The right spirit is: "Things don't seem right to us, but we could have got it wrong."

If your consultant supports your anxieties about the head's performance, don't rush into disciplinary procedures without one more informal conversation setting out the concerns and setting targets for improvement. At this stage, the message is: "we can agree to differ, but that agreement may have certain consequences." Bev Curtis says: "That enables you to be much more open and forthright."

But you will still be at a point where failure to agree doesn't inevitably drag in other parties - 95 per cent of problems can be sorted out at this last-chance stage.

If you're one of the 5 per cent, and there's no real improvement, you may well find that your local education authority advice is to procrastinate. But you will have your outside audit, and agreed notes of what you've done informally to try to improve things.

You should have no hesitation in going on to formal procedures. "My principle is the higher you go, the faster you should fall," says Bev Curtis. Heads shouldn't need too much support, he says, and there's no reason not to set targets which call for improvement within a month. "No one should be afraid of an industrial tribunal. You only have cause to fear it if you haven't been fair."

Bev Curtis is a founder partner in Educational Personnel Management in Huntingdon.

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