When divorce is the only option

Joan Dalton

I wrote last term about a code of conduct for governors, having just compiled one for my school. I explained that my experience was limited to working with one governing body which is united, supportive and well-behaved; and that it was largely a question of codifying existing good practice. I was aware that I might be missing areas of possible future conflict, and asked for advice from people working with "really awful" governing bodies.

I have to thank those who wrote to me. But, to be honest, in some of the situations described, a code of conduct would be as much use as a sticking plaster for a multiple fracture. A diplomat was once asked the best way to bring peace to Colombia. "Deport all the Colombians," he replied, "and repopulate with Swiss." My advice to the governors involved in these extremely stressful and unproductive situations is resign.

Yes, I know that this is cowardly, and that you should stay and fight for the children and what you think is best for the school, but you will never win against a really determined head. Perhaps there is a mediating role here for the many developing governors' associations, but if relationships have irretrievably broken down, staying together for the sake of the children is not recommended.

Other responses to my article included some helpful guidelines from Cleveland Governor Support Services and a draft code from the National Association of Head Teachers.

The NAHT code, while stopping short of proposing fundamental changes in the duties of governors, recommends that governing bodies delegate to their headteachers all responsibilities they legally can - for appointing staff, formulating policies and managing the budget.

Much has been made of the increasing numbers of headteachers being suspended by governing bodies, but I do not believe that this situation can be eased by trying to limit governors to their traditional rubber-stamping functions. The fact is, under LMS governing bodies appoint headteachers and fix their salary levels. Within a few years, most headteachers will have been appointed in this way, and there is no doubt that a governing body that has involved itself conscientiously in drawing up job descriptions and personnel specifications, setting objectives, shortlisting, interviewing and selecting the best possible candidate then feels a strong interest in and sense of responsibility for the future conduct and achievements of its appointee.

Headteachers should recognise this, and set about developing the governing body as a resource for the school, within simple guidelines about the conduct of meetings and school visits, collective responsibility and confidentiality for those who are not used to serving on committees.

I strongly suspect that a headteacher who does not listen to governors will not listen either to the people they represent - parents, teachers and the community. I work with a headteacher who gives my views the same respectful attention as she does the proposals of the five-year-olds who serve on the school council. She is one of those rare people who make decisions after consulting others, rather than before. Adults and children alike respond well to feeling they are valued and trusted and we all work our socks off for her for her and the school. Wise woman.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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