Many of us are school governors. We see it as part of our civic duty to give back to our communities by offering skills and wisdom to help guide our local schools. And those of us that do it will acknowledge that it has become a regulatory quagmire – focused on inspections and safeguarding and risk registers and performance statistics along with the fun stuff. It’s a tough role but still rewarding.
If you are a state school governor we thought we should draw your attention to this article which appeared in the Guardian today. It’s a story about an appeal made by a headmaster against wrongful dismissal by a panel of school governors. The appeal was upheld, and the governors’ attempts to overturn the decision in a further appeal were thrown out.
It is an important right that every employee can appeal against wrongful dismissal, and we’re not commenting on the case itself. There is, however, an aspect of the situation that should give concern to every governor. According to the Guardian, the governors in this case were criticised by the tribunal for relying on the legal and professional advice offered by the Local Education Authority. The implication being that the LEA wanted the headmaster out, and the governors – who should have been acting independently of the LEA - should not have acquiesced to them.
This gives rise to three questions which we suggest you might want to raise at the next governors’ meeting you attend. First, if your school is ever faced with a legal situation such as this (and most schools face them from time to time), should the governors be taking independent legal and professional advice and not relying on advice (as most do at the moment) from the local authority? If the answer to this questions is “yes”, then the second questions is: where is the money coming from to do this? And third, given the school is now going to have to find seven hundred grand to pay the aggrieved headmaster for wrongful dismissal - presumably plus a chunk of legal costs too - what are the potential liabilities (if any) for the school or its governors to pay this money? Is it up to the LEA to pay? If not, does the board of governors and its members have any indemnity insurance against this? Knowing you’re covered in this regard might help you to govern more peacefully.