Whatever the circumstances it’s never a happy time when a headteacher leaves

Usually when a headteacher leaves, the parting involves a teary assembly with many goodbyes. Children, parents and staff have time to come to terms with the change. Believe me when I say that it’s far worse when the governing body has to consider dismissing the head. The potential long-term implications for any school are horrendous and as you know it’s not a step to be taken  lightly.

We are an inner city school with all the usual concerns and challenges. Our reputation is as a compassionate school which successfully turns around many troubled children. The governing body had a good mix of experienced and newer governors with a wide variety of skills. Some were in school every day with their children or grandchildren. From our perspective we knew our school well.

Chance conversation

The headteacher had moved our school to ‘outstanding’. Our currency in the LA was never higher and things seemed rosy to us as governors. How wrong we were. One chance conversation ended in a chain of events which we are still recovering from several years later. As he walked across the school car park one morning the chair stopped  to chat with a teaching assistant (TA). He was told that the headteacher’s husband had recently been made redundant and she intended to employ him as a TA. The TA was worried this would compromise elements of their work. Thinking there must be some aspect of the rumour that was wrong, the chair approached the head and asked how the vacancy was being filled. We frequently have competition for TA roles because they are a valued job in our community. To his surprise the head bluntly told him that she intended to hire her husband.

The chair said that this might not  be appropriate and perhaps governors should run the recruitment process to ensure everything was seen to be above board. The head then countered this with the assertion that as amateurs the governors couldn’t stop her. Worried, the chair contacted management support and with their guidance the head was suspended and escorted from the premises later that day.

'Using the word “traumatised” may seem melodramatic but when we realised the impact on staff we felt we had let them down as governors.'

The days that followed went from bad to worse. First one then two statements came from staff alleging misconduct. Over three weeks this changed to 28 (yes that does say 28) statements. Every stone that was turned over had something nasty peering back from underneath. Slowly a picture emerged of a deeply unpleasant place to work, where adults were scared. This was not our school as we knew it. The governing body followed the absolute letter of guidance given. This enabled us to ensure the process was fair, smooth and done once. We retained a group of ‘untainted’ governors who knew that the head had been suspended but nothing beyond that.

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A governors’ panel reviewed several alleged misconducts, any one of which would result in dismissal. We concluded that the head should be dismissed and this was upheld at appeal. The case was passed to the General Teaching Council where the headteacher was struck off for the maximum length of time before she could reapply for QTS.

Extra work

This was not the line in the sand you might expect to enable our school to move forward. All our school data was suspect. No one knew what was genuine or if anything had been altered, inflated or fabricated. This uncertainty caused a huge amount of extra work for an already traumatised staff and governing body. We had to revisit every number, statistic and judgement. Using the word “traumatised” may seem melodramatic but when we realised the impact on staff we felt we had let them down as governors. We constantly search for how we could have stopped it a day sooner. One thing we never question is if we did the right thing.

We are a vigilant governing body and never take anything at face value. Years later our school is once again  on an even keel but £130,000 poorer – money which could have been spent on educating children. It’s a testament to the professionalism of our staff and governors that the people who did not suffer were the children

The author is a governor at an inner city primary school

This article first appeared in Governing Matters magazine. Governing Matters is published by the National Governors' Association (NGA) for its members. For more information about joining the NGA visit: www.nga.org.uk/join

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