If you’re the parent of a pupil at a Special School, you’re surely reassured that if the pupils were being mistreated or abused in any way, the people who would be most likely to know about it and act to stop it would be
a) the teachers
b) the Governing Body, especially the Parent Governors, who have a vested interest in protecting the pupils
Are you Governor of a Special School?
If not, do you know someone who is?
Or, as the parent or guardian of a pupil at a Special School, have you ever turned to a Governor for help or advice?
If you’re a teacher in a Special School, do you have contact with the Governing Body? Are the Governors inquisitive, interested, involved?
Why am I asking these questions? Well, as a teacher in a Special School who blew the whistle on prolonged verbal bullying of pupils by a teaching colleague and the failure of the head teacher and the LEA to stop it, my experience of Governors is, how can I put it….? Weird.
Weird. That’s the best word I can come up with. But is it typical? Only other people can tell me that.
After months and months of trying to get the bullying stopped, I managed to get someone at the County Council (the Head of Audit) to take me seriously. An independent investigation took place and a damning report that supported my claims was produced. I was given a copy of the summary report, but not of the complete report. This summary report was particularly critical of the Head Teacher, the Deputy Head and the Assistant Head. The County Council subsequently refused to release the full report to a Manchester Guardian journalist who requested it under the Freedom of Information Act.
Now, according to the County Solicitor, the Governing Body is responsible “for the safety and welfare of staff and pupils”. And yet, given these weighty responsibilities, the Governing Body was not allowed so see a copy of the full report. Not only that, the Governing Body was not allowed to see even a copy of the summary report, either! And to cap it all, according to the LEA, the Governors did not ask questions after (and I’d love this bit, if we weren’t talking of such serious problems) the contents of the summary report were summarised for them by a member of the LEA! Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, once a summary report has been summarised, just how much remains?
Now, if you were a Governor who took your responsibilities seriously, especially if you were a Parent Governor with a child at the school, wouldn’t you have pressed to see at least the summary report? Wouldn’t you have wanted to questions the senior management members who had failed to protect the pupils and ask them for their reasons? All of which begs the question, did the LEA’s summary report of the summary report gloss over the problems at the school and hoodwink the Governing Body?
Then there was the Governors’ behaviour towards me, the whistle-blower. I was kept away from school, on “special leave”, for almost a year after blowing the whistle to the County Council. I had to fight to return. During that time, the Governing Body neither contacted me nor offered me any support or thanks for speaking out to protect the pupils (in some cases, their own sons and daughters) for whom they were legally responsible.
Why? Well, maybe the reason is that according to the LEA, until shortly before my eventual return to school, the Governing Body knew which two teachers had been involved, that one had blown the whistle and that the other had bullied the pupils long term, but weren’t told which teacher was which! If you had been one of those Governors, wouldn’t you have wrongly assumed that the teacher who’d been kept out of school for almost a year (i.e. me) was the one who’d carried out the bullying?
Before I returned to school, I insisted that the Governing Body should be told that I was the teacher who’d blown the whistle. I couldn’t bear the thought of facing Parent Governors at Parents Evening, with them thinking that I was the teacher who’d been so cruel over such a long period to their children. I was assured in writing by the County Council that the Governors had been told at a meeting of the Governing Body that I was the whistle blower. Yet when I later received the minutes of that meeting after exercising my right under the Data Protection Act, there was no record of the Governing Body being given this information.
So, are my experiences typical? Do LEA’s keep Governing Bodies in the dark about what’s really happening in the schools that they serve? If you have had experiences that might help answer these questions, please share them.
By Mrs A Teacher, September 2009
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