Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Protection against rogue governors

A county council has recently been punished, by a High Court award of 400,000, for failing to support its employee, the head of a previously successful primary school, against rogue governors.

The papers that covered the story tended to emphasise the fact that the governors concerned were strict Muslims and that the county council was found to have been more concerned about a possible reference to the Commission for Racial Equality (as it then was) than with the health and welfare of the head.

However, the real importance of the case may turn out to be the fact that for the first time a court has ruled that a local education authority, as an employer, has a duty of care to the head and that duty of care can be triggered by the activities of a rogue group of governors. The governing body in this case was considered to be "divided and dysfunctional".

The county council might well have been in breach of its statutory duty to intervene in a failure of governance that caused a "happy and successful school", led by a head who had been invited to Downing Street as a reward for her leadership, being driven into special measures.

What is clear is that the council's defence that "heads have to accept criticism" was not accepted. There clearly are limits to the extent to what heads have to endure.

The case may be appealed, but it is a shot across the bows of governors and local authorities which is helpful to those trying to support heads. Most governors, of course, behave reasonably and most local authorities act to help resolve issues by mediation. Where they do not, they are now on notice that the law will not stand by.

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