Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Castle Dracula

Bran Castle, a fortress in Transylvania, also known as Castle Dracula, owned by the former royal family of Habsburgs. The fortress was never actually part of the Dracula novel by Bram Stoker. However, Romania’s 15th century ruler Vlad Tepes who visited there, served as an inspiration for the author to write it.

School leadership in England and Wales is legally shared between the full-time head teacher and the part-time volunteers, the school governors. The responsibilities and statutory accountability of a school board of governors is not dissimilar to that of any company board of directors and many processes are identical. The salient difference is that they are volunteers and most have little relevant experience.

Why anyone would wish to become a school governor is a topic in its own right. Much of the literature focuses on the ‘public spirit’ - an altruistic wish to contribute to society. In reality, many choose to become governors for a whole range of less than charitable reasons; it looks good on a CV, training and experience and many for the simple reason that it sounds good and enhances their social status. They have little appreciation of their legal responsibilities and can end up defending their actions and activities in court.

In my past, I had been a teacher governor and up until now, I had never appreciated the impenetrable fortress that surrounds the power of a school board of governors. They are accountable to no one - a law unto themselves.

There is no doubt that the school governance system works and is an extremely cost effective solution and is used by many schools throughout the world.

Many studies have been commissioned over the years that analyze the ‘School Governance Model’. Some reports study aspects of ‘distributed leadership’, its benefits and shortcomings. In some cases, the governors are closely involved with the day to day functions and operations of the school whereas others remain remote, allowing the head teacher greater freedom to do his / her job.

The fundamental problem is that there is a complex and at times fragile balance of relationships between governors and head teachers. There is a reliance on the intrinsic integrity and strength of the governors; especially the chairman. There are two extremes that were identified that are counterproductive to the ‘best’ development of a school. One extreme is where the governors control the head teacher and others where the governors are divorced from the school and the head teacher assumes independent control, not only of the school but also governors.

The school’s inspectorate (Ofsted) is the only investigative agency that can identify leadership / management problems, during a ‘dreaded’ inspection. Ofsted’s prime focus is on the development / performance of the pupils and many schools pass an inspection even though there are considerable failings within the management systems.

Ofsted themselves are accountable to government. The government need accurate figures to demonstrate to the electorate that our education systems are working and are improving. It would seem that Ofsted might be pressurized into revising their own subjective criteria to provide more optimistic reports.

Most schools publish their Ofsted Inspection Reports on the Internet. It is interesting to identify key phrases from a report and then enter that phrase as a Google search ... it is surprising how many results are found ! Teachers are encouraged to produce pupil reports using phrase based software - click from a stock of standard templates; simple and mechanical. I suspect that Ofsted employ similar techniques and ‘cut and paste’ from existing reports - resulting in a report that contains little creative considered or objective content.

There is no way to break down the walls of the fortress that protect a school’s management structure - the horrors and torture continue without end and without hope of intervention ... everyone and all agencies have hidden agendas. You will have the blood and life sucked out of you and you will become one of the ‘living dead’ !

Up until the other day, I thought that my case was unique - there can not be many teachers in my position where there is evidence of conspiracy, collusion, fraud and intimidation.

I was really upset when I found the following two articles on the TES website. Note the British complacency of the responses from Joan Sallis; "Don’t forget the teacher will not always be blameless and the head will not always be prejudiced ! We must be fair." No one has been fair to me ... it is time to excise this cancer of apathy ... fight and kill this vampire, this thing of evil, horror and nightmares !

Facing disciplinary proceedings (05 December 2005)
Question: Not really a question but a comment on the teacher with the personality clash, facing disciplinary proceedings. Unfortunately, you cannot guarantee a fair hearing, especially with governors, as they will support the head. However, if you have positive proof that the charges are trumped up, then you can take the school to tribunal. That will ensure a fair hearing. Unfortunately, you only have three months from the date of the FIRST incident to make your application to the tribunal. Get yourself an ET1 (or IT1) and file it now. Make it a "blank" ET1, explaining that you feel there will be undue delay in the process initiated by your employer and that you wish to preserve your rights to file for a tribunal case. Go to the ACAS site, and to the TUC site to get more information. There are useful links and you can also contact the Citizen’s Advice to get information.

Sorry this person is in such a situation but having experienced the unfairness of the hearing process in schools, I certainly understand what this teacher must be going through. Unfortunately, it’s all too common nowadays.

Joan Sallis replies: Thank you for offering this correspondent such detailed and practical information and sympathy. I am sure it will be very helpful to her and I will e-mail the guidance bit to her (without identification of course) in case she misses it. I did advise her to think in terms of an industrial tribunal but not with all the helpful detail. But I cannot let your blanket assertion that governing bodies never give a teacher in difficulties a fair hearing go unchallenged, as I think it is extremely unfair. There are after all at least a quarter of a million governors! I have had a vast amount of contact with schools and governors over twenty five years or so, and though I would not deny that it is not easy for a panel to stand up to a dominant head, I would say that in the majority of cases governors charged with this difficult task carry it out fairly and honourably. Don’t forget the teacher will not always be blameless and the head will not always be prejudiced! We must be fair.

Collusion in sacking (06 June 2006)
Question: Although it might only be hearsay, what can one do if one finds that a head, some teachers and the chair of governors colluded to sack a teacher in the school in order to save money?

Joan Sallis replies: I assume you are talking about sacking and not redundancy which are different processes. If so I’m afraid hearsay doesn’t ever get you very far. More important however is the fact that the governing body and no-one else is responsible in law for dismissing a teacher. They would need to elect a special panel to finalise it, and the panel’s decision would be confidential, the detail even being withheld from the governors not on it. This may seem a technicality when a good deal of talk and investigation and maybe as you suggest gossip have already taken place. It may also ring a bit hollow if governors feel they have not had much real involvement, but the consequences remain. The same is true of appointments – even if a headteacher exercises the right to have no governors on an appointment panel, the governing body takes the responsibility for any problems which may arise later.

If either process results in a legal appeal – not unusual - it is the governing body which has to answer for it, but I’m afraid there will always be cases where no-one will have alerted them or spelled this out. Sometimes only the chair will have been included in the process. So if necessary it is up to us to protect ourselves by being vigilant and challenging any decisions which have appear to have taken our consent for granted.

It may be of course that formalities were observed but the evidence was considered by the governors involved to be cooked. This would have to be proved. Invoke your LEA if what you fear turns out to be the case. The big message is that apathy and inattention are dangerous and that sadly governing bodies themselves sometimes have to make sure that they are not dangerously marginalised in sensitive cases.