Coping with a headteacher’s long-term sickness

Reflection – Primary School

What was the issue addressed?
The headteacher took long term sick leave and there was generally an air of distrust and unhappiness amongst the staff at this time. The chair of governors mainly dealt with the day-to-day issues. I had only been a governor for about 6 months, and did not have a good grasp of what was happening. Turned out to be an issue that had been developing for some time.

What happened?
An interim head was appointed.

What lessons were learnt?
The interim head helped to restore balance and carried on implementing the leadership development plan. The head on leave was able to recuperate and return to work.

Did the Chair meet with the staff to explain the situation initially when the headteacher went off sick? This may have addressed any unhappiness within the staff group.

There are a few questions to ask: Why was the chair dealing with day-to-day issues at the school? Or was this just the perception of the new governor? The headteacher and chair have a very distinct relationship, that is based on trust and mutual respect for each other’s role. Bearing this in mind, the chair would have the responsibility for managing the sickness absence of the headteacher, with advice from Human Resources at the Local Authority. Every school should have a managing sickness absence policy for staff in place which must be followed. Useful information can be found here.

In the absence of the headteacher long-term, governing bodies must appoint an acting headteacher for that period of time to ensure that the school is managed appropriately, which is what happened in this case. This process should take place as soon as possible. Sometimes this appointment is made internally. If there is no one suitable within the school, the governing body can liaise with the Local Authority to appoint someone externally. This could be an effective deputy headteacher at another school. The regulations that govern the process for the appointment of an acting headteacher can be found here (regulation 10(2)-10(7).

If the “situation had been developing overtime,” was the sickness absence stress related? The governing body is responsible for ‘ensuring that the headteacher has a reasonable workload in support of a reasonable work life balance, having regard for health and welfare’ and ‘providing headteachers with dedicated time that recognises their significant leadership responsibilities for the school’. Was the Chair / governing body monitoring this? Sources:
The Staffing of Maintained Schools (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2009
The School Teachers Pay and Conditions (Wales) Document

The Chair would have a responsibility to ensure that the acting headteacher had the support needed to carry out the role in the interim, and that they understood the governing body’s role in supporting and challenging the school. Meetings between the Chair and acting head should take place regularly.

Governors Cymru Services guide on The Role of the Chair includes information on this important relationship.

Please seek advice from the Local Authority or Diocesan Authority as appropriate, right from the beginning or contact Governors Cymru Services on [email protected]

Has your school had to deal with the long-term sickness of a senior member of staff? How did the school manage this?
What would be challenges for a school needing to take on an interim headteacher?

Have your say…
Have you had experiences similar to these?
What do you think about the situation described?

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