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Dear Stephen - Can a parent governor candidate be allowed to exceed election word limit ?

Discussion in 'Governors' started by Yummymummyharrogate, Oct 27, 2012.

  1. Dear Stephen et al
    I hope you might advise. My husband has chosen to stand for election as a Parent Governor at our sons' High School. Nominations were invited with the stipulation that a supporting statement of no more than 50 words would be permitted. The Head ( who is also the Returning Officer), wrote in the letter inviting nominations that she could not circulate statements exceeding 50 words as it would be unfair to do so.
    Accordingly, my husband confined his statement to 49 words.
    Ballot papers came home yesterday as there were two candidates for the one vacancy, including my husband. The papers were accompanied by candidates' personal statements. It was immediately apparent that the other candidate had been allowed to submit a statement greatly exceeding 50 words. It was 72 words in length, which is quite a lot more than 50 words and allowed the other candidate to put forward a much more erudite case for voters to vote for her. My husband, who has been published in numerous scientific journals and careers magazines felt that he had been disadvantaged by this and made to appear as though he struggled to communicate effectively. As the two statements were obviously meant to be read comparatively he felt it was most unfair.
    The Head had actually stated that circulation of a statement longer than 50 words would be unfair so surely, as Returning Officer, this should not have been allowed? We feel that the other candidate should not have been advantaged in this way and that the election should be halted as it has now been rendered unfair. Any idea what protocol might be for dealing with this? School is currently on half term and once they return votes will already be in the process of being submitted.
  2. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter


    It is standard practice for the LA to delegate the election of PG?s to Head teachers, who become the returning officer.

    You have a right to be invited to any count by the way.

    I would start by saying that only allowing 50 words (especially for a high school) is pretty meagre for a personal statement. Something more akin to 200 or even 100 would be the norm.

    Guidance from a school on a statement should say something like this:-

    ?Anyone standing for election is invited to provide, with his/her nomination, a short personal statement (maximum of 200 words). The statement should only include biographical information, your reasons for wanting to be a parent governor and the contribution you believe you can make to the governing body?.

    The Head acting as returning officer has considerable autonomy in deciding the detail and timing of the election of a parent governor, although he/she is unlikely to be following Parker?s Law and Conduct of Elections, Chapter 4, The Returning Officer .

    An election for a parent governor may not be as important as a councillor or MP, but most certainly it should still follow transparent procedures which are equal to all candidates. The case you describe is clearly not fair. The head has set rules and your husband has followed them to the letter and the other candidate has not and has completed a statement which is 50% greater than the number of words allowed.

    The head in my view has two options the first is that the other candidate should be disqualified from his/her candidature for PG. The other candidate has clearly not followed the rules and should be disqualified by their own actions. Secondly and this one I would not endorse is that the process needs to be re-run.

    The head as Returning Officer has the power to correct procedural errors that they have made (in this case making the rules and then not applying them equitably), and they have certainly made one here. To not correct this error by remedy, they will in my view be guilty of an offence of breach of official duty. Elections are very serious matters and not to be treated with the law of the wild west. Head teachers have a duty to maintaining the integrity of an election.

    I would immediately communicate with the Head teacher (make sure he/she gets your communication swiftly) and inform him/her of your complaint concerning the inequality of the procedure. In addition, I suggest you also immediately contact and register your complaint with the Director of Children?s services in your LA about this process and suggest that they contact the head to have the other candidate ditched or re-run the process fairly. The correct process is to ditch, although some contributors here may feel that there should be a softer approach.
  3. Many thanks for your most comprehensive reply. It really is a huge help. I also considered that the only fair resolution was disqualification of the other candidate as the damage has been done. Parents will have seen the statements side by side and first impressions count. If the election is re- run there is nothing that can be done to counter these first impressions.
    We suspect that the Head favours the other candidate and that is why the extra long statement slipped passed scrutiny of the school staff responsible for typing personal statements up and circulating them. We cannot prove this however.
    If the Head feels disinclined to halt the election or take action to remedy the situation does the LA actually have any power in relation to enforcement in terms of breaches of their duty as Returning Officer? My husband plans to contact them on Monday morning as the school is on half term and wants to be well prepared.
    Do the LA have to intervene given the obvious unfairness if the Head refuses to act fairly?
    We are concerned that the Head will be obviously disinclined to act as the other candidate is a friend of hers and wonder if the LA actually has any power to force halting of the election?
    Any advice anyone can give would be much appreciated.
  4. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    There are some very basic rules for PG elections. If a ballot paper comes in later than the cut off time/date it is discounted. I recall being present at the count of an election for a PG and the cut off time was 12 noon. The school's post came at 12:20 and 11 ballot papers were declared inapplicable. Likewise where an X crosses two boxes the vote is discounted as indeed would be a ballot paper that indicated who the voter was and spoilt ballot papers as well and 72 words v 49 words!

    What is of concern is your comment re the relationship between the head and the other candidate, which is a conflict of interest but no doubt without concrete evidence difficult to prove. You should also if this element has some meat to it, inform the director of education as well on Monday. I don't suggest you do this but intimating possible legal action can focus the minds. Get hold of the Director of Education's email address and ensure you confirm matters to them in writing.

    I would accept that a simple re-run would also leave your husband at a disadvantage. Since the original procedure has not been carried out fairly it is possible that if your husband is not declared the winner that the LA could take over any re-run, which would mean the process beginning again with the possibility of additional candidates putting themselves forward or dropping out. It is also possible that some fudge might be arranged to fit you both in, but that would depend on your school's instrument of government (GB make up).

    In community and controlled schools, the Local Authority is ultimately responsible for elections and does have the power to step in where matters like this are causing concern. Your LA should also have a head of their school governance unit, who should be able to assist.

    As a long shot you might also find some solace in threatening to officially complain to the Department of Education citing a breach of section 496 Power to prevent unreasonable exercise of functions of the Education Act 1996, this includes unreasonableness in something which is being proposed to be done.

    Good luck and keep us informed of how matters pan out.

    An example of a PG toolkit is here:-
  5. Thank you so much. I will keep you posted!
  6. reg1950

    reg1950 New commenter

    I agree complain to the head but don't get carried away like montiagh does about the duties of retruning officers. Heads aren't returning officers in a legal sense and aren't called that anywhere in law and talk of the head committing an offence for "breach of official duty" is nonsense. And anyway this all seems a lot of fuss about one candidate having exceeded their word limit by 22 words - get a sense of perspective!
  7. It's not about just a few words. It's about the fact that the Head clearly stated in writing that to circulate a statement longer than 50 words would not be permitted as it would be unfair and then has gone and blatantly done just that.
  8. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    reg1950 - Interesting that you choose to pick only 4 words from my posts. Interesting also that your wisdom to YMH is to get a sense of perspective, I am sure that will be of value?

    It is not wise to suggest a violation of the procedures is acceptable under any circumstances. If it is then lax should be the watch word of every facet of school life. The integrity of the process has been breached simple as that. Perhaps the next time a Parent Governor position comes up in school the head should go out into the playground at three o'clock when parents are coming to collect their children and ask for the first parent to put their hand up to volunteer.
  9. grrmummy

    grrmummy New commenter

    Appropriate challenge is after all what good governance is all about so I hope he will not be put off by the experience and will run again if not successful this time. [​IMG]
  10. grrmummy

    grrmummy New commenter

    Sorry - another thought. You should check the school's status (i.e. whether it is Voluntary Controlled or a community school) before contacting the LA as the LA is not responsible for all PG elections. If the school is VA (Voluntary aided) or Foundation the responsibility for the election lies with the Governing Body not the LA. If you do aroach the GB rather than the LA do ask whether there are any other type of governor vacancies - eg there may be a community vacancy...
    Good luck...[​IMG]
  11. Many thanks for your thoughts. Having contacted Governor Support at the LA we were advised that the only acceptable course of action is for the candidate who exceeded the word limit to be disqualified as it is too late now for it to be amended as the papers have already been circulated. They were quite adamant about this. Email contact from the Chair of the GB seems to indicate some resistance to giving any undertaking to follow this ( or any other) remedial course of action. In fact, the preferred course of action seems to be simply to stall and claim that advice will not be forthcoming from the LA as it is half term. How odd! They were certainly available to talk when my husband contacted them and appeared to be quite clear about the course of action required.
  12. Many thanks for the replies. It is a community school. The LA have now discovered that they don't actually have a policy provision to inform a course of action as this has never come up before. I think that their policy has, quite understandably, been written from a standpoint that assumes school will be competent enough to count the words in any personal statement as that really isn't too hard is it?
    Regarding the tiny word count, that is just a matter of LA policy and they will not deviate from it at all under any circumstances and that clearly is stipulated in their policy. So, they now have a bit of a quandary. We don't know if they have spoken to the HT and other candidate but that would be the best way forward. They have decided that they will need to halt the election straight away. That much is clear. It appears that they then want to investigate to find out what happened before either rerunning the election from the start with an LA returning officer instead of the HT or following another course of action if that is indicated by their investigation. They may eventually decide to flip a coin, as at least that course of action is mentioned in their policy ( with regard to action to be taken in the case of the tie). We agree that disqualification is not terribly fair either as, whilst the other candidate should have complied with the rules, they should also have been given the opportunity to change their statement so that it did comply. The problem has been entirely caused by the matter going unnoticed by the HT.
  13. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    I really cannot see why when a candidate does not comply with the instructions of an election process that they should be given a second opportunity. The toss of a coin is not applicable here as there is not a tie of votes. I once filled a section of a nomination form incorretly for an election to a council committee and I was disqualified. The interesting thing about it was that I was the only candidate. Elections are black and white and should not contain fudge.
  14. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    I'm pleased to see the LA have withdrawn the advice they were so adamant was the only acceptable course of action. It seemed to me that hadn't thought it through properly. I'm not surprised the chair of governors was wanting advice before replying to you. You are Community school so it's nothing to do with the governors and they shouldn't get involved. It's up the LA to deal with and they must surely need to discuss it with the head, who is running the election on their behalf, before deciding what to do?
    I agree with montiagh that tossing a coin seems an entirely inappropriate and irrelevant way of dealing with this. That's how you decide a tie, not a procedural fault.
    I don't share montiagh's view that the other candidate should be penalised by not being allowed to stand again. We don't know exactly what the LA rules say but typically it's the Head's responsibility to ensure that candidates' nomination papers comply with the rules before circulating them to the electorate. Of course the candidate should also ensure they are correct, but the final decision rests with the head. The head apparently accepted the over-long statement so it's not obvious to me why the candidate should be excluded from being a candidate in future. The candidate could rightly complain that if this had been pointed out to him when he submitted his papers he would have revised his statement and resubmitted it within the nomination deadline, and that by circulating it the head has formally accepted it as complying with the procedural requirements. The error is the head's, it's the head who is accountable to the LA for compliance with procedures, not the candidate.
    I'd suggest the election is re-run, and that to avoid any suggestion that the other candidate gained advantage from already having had an overlength statement circulated the LA permits on this occasion a statement from all candidates of 100 words. There's no reason why the LA couldn't change its word limit this way if it wanted to. It's not like council elections where procedures are laid down in law. PG election procedure is just internal council policy. There's no legal requirement for any particular word limit nor anything that says the policy always has to be the same in every LA school. The LA has the discretion to vary its policy to deal with the situation that has arisen if it wants to.
  15. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    The other candidate is 100% culpable in their error and have in a sense self disqualfied themselves. The fact that the head or his staff have not picked up on the error and already communicated the problem (if time had permitted) to the other candidate does not in anyway suggest acceptance of the error by the school. In all walks of life 'not more than' is a fairly simple instruction to understand. The offending candidate could equally have done 172 words and still it appears some would say the best solution is to re-run. Election rules are there to be adhered to and not something to be varied.
  16. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    But Yummymummyharrogate says there are no rules in this case about what happens if the head as returning officer has made a mistake. If there were I agree you should follow them.
  17. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    Yummymummyharrogate said that the head stated that she could not not circulate statements greater than 50 words. The fact that someone in the school did is irrelevant to the fact that the offending candidate invalidated his own nomination by not following the LA /school policy of a maximum of 50 words. You do not need a policy to work out that Yummymummy's husband is the winner. The head or his staff have simply overlooked (or ignored) and intensified the error. The LA were correct in the first place.

    I may add that if this election is re-run again by the head and as you suspect the head favours the other candidate then I can see that your husband will be up against it. Skulduggery can exist where robust scrutiny does not.

  18. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    I'm impressed by your certainty in knowing that whatever LA procedures say Yummymummyharrogate's husband must be the winner when no-one here has seen the LA policy .
    I'm even more impressed by your ability to take such contrary positions in the same thread about the status of the head in this. Earlier you equated the head to a returning officer. One of the legal duties of an RO is to make the statutory determination of whether a candidate's nomination papers comply with the election procedures applying to that election. The RO's determination is both necessary and binding, it cannot (save some exceptional circumstances) be challenged while the election is proceeding. If you believe the head is RO in PG elections analagous to an RO in local council elections then it cannot be the case that the the overlength candidate in this case is 100% to blame and is disqualified. The head as RO has determined the nomination is valid and allowed the nomination to go forward. If the head was wrong in making that determination (as seems the case) then by all means disqualify the head from continuing as RO but the candidate isn't responsible for the head making the wrong determination.
  19. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    RW. I have made the point of what I would expect an RO to be and to do. The responsibility of acting correctly in these matters is delegated to the head from the LA and the head may in turn delegate it to his admin office. Perhaps this is a fault that such relegation of an important issue occurs. You are also correct RW that this issue is not for the chair or GB (except that it is probably reasonable to let the chair know of the predicament). I remain of the view that no policy is needed when the instructions for the statement were very clear.

    We do not have sufficient information from YMH as to exactly what transpired in school prior to the circulation of papers. Do we actually know that the head read both nominations and statements and concluded that all was in order and then instructed her staff to send them out. Or did the papers come to the school secretary and the secretary sent them out without intervention or scrutiny from the head?

    What we do know is that 'the Head clearly stated in writing that to circulate a statement longer than 50 words would not be permitted' not be permitted means to me that to do so invalidates your own submission of nomination prior to any scrutiny of the process by either the head or her admin team. Simples!

    If you attend as a prospective candidate at the vote for a local election, you will be allowed to wander up and down the tables of counters and scrutinise matters. If you spot a counter putting a voting slip on one of the piles of your competitors and you see that there is no cross on the paper you can make your objection known and the voting slip will not count. The Counter (or in this instance the head teacher / admin was wrong) and matters are then corrected not fudged. You don't go back to the voter with the blank voting slip and ask them to have another go! YMH's husband will if a re-run does occur be disadvantaged from the very beginning as you cannot ask parents/carers to blank from their minds the memory of someone's statement that has only recently occured.

  20. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    Irrelevant. The head is accountable for the decision made whether they made it personally or allowed someone else to make it without adequate checking. They may delegate an administrative function but they cannot delegate their responisbility.
    This PG election hasn't even got to the count. This has nothing to do with an RO determing whether to accept a nomination.
    That's why (even though the liklihood of real disadvanatage is vanishingly small) I suggested that it's rerun with 100 words. Both will have the chance to use all their original arguments in their plus some more.

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