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When tempers start to fray

A long day: too much to do in too little time, pressures build, tempers fray. A familiar scenario, even if professionals are expected to stay cool with pupils, parents and the community. But staff become harassed when they are at their most vulnerable, and professional standards can slip.

The trouble is that society's problems - family break-up, financial difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse and so on - often spill over into school life. Sad as this is, many schools have to cope. At such fraught moments, accusations of children being bullied by other pupils andor staff may be hurled at the school by distressed parents.

When the head needs support, it is the chair of governors who should be there to listen to the staff member and the parent, and talk about the issues with the head. Timing is vital: too soon and tempers will not have cooled; too late and positions may become entrenched. Confidentiality is crucial because sharing information too widely might compromise a governing body appeal, should one be mande.

So what does the chair of governors say to parents andor staff who are behaving badly? Establish first that the main concern of all parties is the health, wellbeing and achievement of either an individual child or children. Talk with each party about how a solution could be achieved in the best interests of the child or children.

Where professional standards have slipped, be understanding but firm and, if appropriate, encourage an apology. Make it clear when parents' behaviour has been less than satisfactory. If all else fails, recommend an appropriate course of action, such as an appeal to the governing body.

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

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