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Dear Stephen - what happens when an election is cancelled by the chair for no good reason and without consulting the candidates first?

Discussion in 'Governors' started by lexsto, Jan 24, 2015.

  1. Hi

    I am have put myself forward for a parent governor vacancy that arose at our school in January. I complied with the nomination procedure and submitted my election statement. It is just myself and one other candidate.

    The process was going smoothly, with the deadline for ballot papers for this Monday at 12.30pm. On Friday afternoon an email from the school office and signed by the chair of governors was sent out to all parents of the school.

    It said the election had been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances and that the ballot papers would be shredded and a new election would take place next term (bearing in mind we are only three weeks into the this term).

    When I emailed the chair of governors I received this reply:

    "I would much rather have spoken to you and the other candidate prior, but given the timing had to let the head send out the global email. I was only notified of issues earlier today and with the count due on Mon had to take an immediate decision.

    I know there is no mal-intent involved, but your email out using the PTA distribution list generated some complaint from other parents, and it is technically against the rules.

    We might have worked through that and been able to proceed, but I was told you also obtained a couple of replacement ballot papers from the office. Again, I'm sure your request was completely legitimate, but the office should not have complied. We've no way to track ballot papers once issued. If we had proceeded and the vote was close (they often are) this means we would not be able to defend an accusation that you got an unfair advantage.

    All a bit of a mess. We will have to re-run the whole process. I hope that you and the other candidate will reapply and that we can run a seamless process next time."

    So my issues are these:

    1. Can the chair unilaterally call off an election without consulting the GB?

    2. I can prove the email was NOT a PTA generated one.

    3. I have not seen a copy of any rules and there were certainly not handed out or made to potential candidates.

    4. I can prove who the duplicate ballot papers were for and she will come in to the office to confirm that I handed them to her that day.

    5. The school has actually messed up the election process themselves in this and previous elections because they actually send out 10s of duplicate papers. they do this by putting ballot papers in each child's book bag. So this means that any parent with more than one child at the school (and there are some with three children at the school) will have received duplicate papers. The county council's guidelines state that parents with more than child at the school should only receive ONE ballot paper each. So how do the two extras i requested - openly and honestly explaining exactly what they were for - do anything different than the school has already done?

    6. I have protested to the Chair and even offered a simple solution which I will set out below - but should he decide to ignore that, then should the whole process be run - from nominations to election to count OR as there was nothing wrong with the nomination process, should he just start the election part again and do that as quickly as possible? I ask because I do not feel it would be fair to my self and the other candidate to then have to potentially go up against candidates after we have both adhered to the nomination process and the election process.

    My Solution:

    My suggestion is therefore, as nothing has actually happened to skew the process or that is against the rules is to re-open the vote, for the period of time that it was closed for, and just take 2 votes off my total count.

    I should add that I am not surprised, and neither is my partner, this has happened. The head and I do not get on particularly well, probably because I stand up to her and she is not used to that - clearly and she has been involved in the situation by informing the chair of the email (I now she did this because a friend has told me she was asking her about email rules) and because only she would have known about the duplicate papers via her office staff.

    One little other thing: the council's guidelines also states: If a ballot paper is inadvertently spoilt or lost by a pupil, a duplicate may be issued.

    Well the duplicate wasn't lost - the parent threw it away - but I offered to obtain duplicates for her to save her time as she has two other young children not at school.

    So after all that I guess my question is - what rights do I have and what can I do to encourage the chair to re-open the vote or at the very least just re-run it next week?

    Thanks in advance for your advice. I'm pretty miffed by this and how it has been handled so anything you can do to help would be most appreciated.
  2. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    The HT is in control of the election process not the chair. The chair has the right at any time to enact a chairs action if an emergency decision needs to be made in a school which is not operational. It is normal for schools to keep all voting material for an election including votes for six months. This was clearly halted at the 11th hour with you feeling you had a good chance of success. I would complain to your LA governor services dept and complain to the school and ask them to shred nothing at the moment. There may well be a bit of skulduggery here but unfortunately schools can get away with this improper behaviour.
  3. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    For natural justice I would be seeking that if this election has to be re-run then only the original two candidates are in the frame. I would further suggest for confidence that perhaps the Council conduct the Election / receive the votes or that the school use the double envelope system. You are by the way entitled to be at any count and you are entitled inspect the papers and votes.

    Perhaps also one of you could be elected and the other made an associate governor. Has your school gone through re-constitution as per 2012 legislation. I am sure it would not have caused too much of a problem for the head (not chair) to have called the two candidates. I would certainly want to know what the legal excuse was to halt the election (unforeseen circumstances) and where the school got advice from (if it did) and an investigation of why it went belly up. Which LA are you in?

    The Appropriate authority for conducting Parent Elections is your local authority, which delegates the responsibility to the head teacher who becomes the returning officer.

    You can find some interesting information here on Parent Elections


    And Essex CC have their parent election guidance here

  4. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    Not necessarily, we don't know what type of school OP is at. The governing body is responsible if the school is VA or Foundation school.

    I don't think there's enough evidence to suggest skullduggery. The reason the Chair gave - that PTA email shouldn't have been used for canvassing - isn't unreasonable. I realise OP disputes whether he did actually use PTA email but that's a factual difference of opinion that's not really possible to comment on here.

    What I would challenge Chair on is why he's waiting until next term to re-run the election. Surely it should be re-run straight away?
  5. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    The OP in '5' talks of County Council hence the possibility that this is a maintained primary. If the PTA email system has been used (which is disputed but easy to prove) then that is not quite in the spirit of the election process of a parent governor, however it is not against any rules (as the rules are silent on canvassing) and is permissible as would canvassing outside the school gate with leaflets or publicising on the nearest hoarding. In practice these 'extra' assists rarely ever happen and if they did I am sure parents would vote for another candidate via their annoyance.

    I would agree that this matter should not wait until next term.
  6. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    It's not whether it's a maintained school - I'm assuming it is - but what category of maintained school that matters. PG elections are the responsibility of LA if it's a Community or VC school, but of the governing body if it's a VA or Foundation school.

    I don't know how you can say that with any certainty as we don't know the rules for PG elections in OPs school. OP hasn't posted them, and says " I have not seen a copy of any rules". That could mean none exist, or they do exist but OP hasn't seen them. We don't know. Incidentally, I don't think the allegation is that OP used the PTA's email system, but that that OP used the PTA's distribution list when sending out email on his own system.

  7. Thanks for your comments - I have now found out that:

    1. It is a community school and the LA are responsible but can delegate to the HT. In this case, and when I actually spoke to the council, they said it was a governor process and the second time they said it was down to the HT. In practice, it seems to be being run by the COG and the GB.

    2. The school or GB do not have any rules in place - so ergo I can't have broken them. But there are guidelines from the council which say that duplicate papers can be issued if lost or stolen and parent should only receive ONE ballot paper each regardless of how many children they have in the school. So the GB have broken both the rules themselves by saying that the duplicate papers I asked for were the reason they cancelled the election and by giving parents more than one ballot paper to parents with more than one child in the school.

    3. Legislation does not even mention campaigning.

    4. The school has no email rules and clearly do not understand data protection regulations.

    5. I have written confirmation from the person that started the email list I used that it was a personal parent list signed up to by that year's parents and agreed for what it was to be used - i.e. staying in touch and emailing each other.

    6. The COG's reason for not doing the election til next term is that he now realises what a massive mistake he has made in cancelling the election based on a totally subjective opinion not backed up by rules or guidelines and he wants to get the process set out and defined before he runs another election.. He hasn't decided or doesn't know if can run the election again without opening it up to additional nominees and is waiting to speak to county.

    i think the solution is simple. Re run the election the nomineees as they stand, make sure that each parent only gets one paper and introduce a double envelope system so they can track ballot papers without affecting people's anonymity in the vote. lots of schools do this.

    Oh and the need to have a secure ballot box which they don't - just a filing tray in the office which isn't always staffed and so the votes could be tampered with. A box and the double envelope system would solve this.

    In the meantime, I have also been on the phone with my county councillor, my MP and the governance team (who are frankly useless and do not want to get involved).

    And the COG has still not sent parents any kind of explanation as to what's going on and the rumours are rife and people are asking me if I did anything wrong. But as I explain to them what has actually happened they are incredulous that the HT and COG can get away with this.

    I found out that the papers were shredded within minutes of the decision being made - how dodgy does that look???
  8. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    Just a thought about Dear Stephen from the NGA. I have not seen him on TES answering questions in a very long time and suspect the NGA have not replaced him.

    Frankly it is shocking to hear that the ballots were shredded so quickly, which is quite improper.

    It sounds like a complete dogs dinner, engineered by the incompetent.

    LA Governor services do tend generally in the UK to be seriously lacking when a problem like this is put on their desk. You could also complain to your Director of Children's Services.

    The ultimate way to rattle the cage of any school is to tell them you have taken legal advice on a Judicial Review to remedy matters and that a letter before action is currently being considered. Schools/LA's then tend to wake up to their misdemeanors and engage even if the JR threat proceeds no further.

    You could also indicate to the school that you have been given advice to launch a formal complaint with the Department of Education on s496 & s497. The Dfe has the power to direct a school under sections 496 & 497 (Education Act 1996). s496 has the power to prevent unreasonable exercise of functions by GB's / Schools. s497 deals with failure to discharge a duty contained in the Act. The DfE School Complaints Team are in Piccadilly, Manchester. However, the DfE may well say this is not for them and in any case they can takes months and in some cases years to investigate a complaint.

    I am sure most reasonable governors not to mention parents putting themselves forward for a governor role would be jumping up and down as you are.

    Without the detailed reasoning from the school as to why the election was halted, it is difficult to pontificate whether the action was reasonable or whether someone is ensuring that you do not get onto the GB of this school. I would certainly be pushing for an independent investigation.

    Have a look at The School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2012, schedule 1 for the legislation on Parent Elections.
  9. Thank you Montiagh - Dogs Dinner is a nice way of saying it.

    As to incompetent - I feel it is a bit more sinister than that from the HT's standpoint. My partner feels she would have found some way of stopping this election if what has occurred had not done so. I stand up to her and like most people who are used to telling others what to do and not being questioned - she hates when someone does question her! (I have to quietly chuckle to myself here.)

    Moving on - I have in fact already spoken to the DfE and have their Manchester address and because of the situation I explained I was told I can bypass the normal GB complaints process - although I did have en email from the COG today saying that if I had complained anywhere else I would be undermining his process - he really wants to keep this in house I am thinking.

    But thank you for the extra info on the education act and the JR. That is very helpful.

    I am going to give the COG a couple of days to make some kind of decision about what he is going to tell parents and the re-election or next election and then make my move if it does not stand up - but I am pretty much ready to go on all cylinders.

    I need to remember that if I do somehow get elected next time round that I will be on the same board as this guy and the HT and we will have to work together. The more acrimonious it gets now the harder that will be.

    But I certainly will not take this lying down and I believe I am completely the wronged party here.

    As with everyone else here - thank you for your support. :)
  10. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    It really is not for the chair of governors to be running this show, and who you complain to outside of the school (which you have every entitlement to do so) has no connection to any internal complaint you may make. What they have done is very wrong. In 15 years of school governance, I have never heard of such conduct from a community school in a school parent election.

    I remember some years ago walking into the heads office and he was counting the votes of a parent governor election of two candidates with the assistance of a TA. He said gosh it's 36 votes each and would I recount. I did and it was the same count. He said he preferred one of the candidates, I said ok but we will still work with the tiebreaker we have in place, the HT's non preferred candidate won and was actually a pretty good governor.

    I have just come back from a governors meeting where the HT (different head to above) commented that he had a GB of the highest order of integrity and it was so refreshing to hear because as chair I will ensure it remains that way on my watch.

    As explained in an earlier post the Dfe can take ages with any complaint. Your LA is the appropriate authority for this matter, it is they who should be correcting this terrible error of judgement.

    Another form of pressure should you need to use it, is the FOIA. Visit the whatdoyouknow website and find your school on there. If it isn't there register it. Then ask some interesting questions about this election process. Use a Psuedonym or or get parent friend that can't be connected to you. It's a public website, so anyone will be able to read your FOIA request and the answers from the school. A school is a public body spending public funds and should be fully open to scrutiny and should be totally transparent.

    I hate **** like this happening in our schools but unfortunately the avenues to correct are limited and there are no 'school integrity police' to sort this quickly.

    Most individuals being shafted like this walk away without a whimper and leave the wrongdoers to continue this behaviour. It's good to see that you will not take it lying down
  11. grrmummy

    grrmummy New commenter

    Sadly your experience does not surprise me. When I stood for election as PG malicious lies were circulated about me to the whole of the (clueless and cliquey) GB (and the LA) and after I was elected, the HT as returning officer (with the support of the CoG and the NAHT) tried her best to have the election result overturned. She couldn?t.

    It is worth fighting because what you need to remember is that the sort of malpractice you describe is inexcusable and such weak leadership does little to help raise educational standards and improve the life chances of children.

    Good luck.
  12. grrmummy

    grrmummy New commenter

    Sorry, one final point. Do remember that if you do get elected you will be there as a representative parent and not a parent representative. This really important. Policies have to be followed and you will not be able to raise concerns (yours or anyone elses) without following due protocol. Also there will be information you are privvy to as a governor which is not for playground discussion and that even when you vote against/do not agree with decisions taken at GB level you will have to accept that the GB collectively decides certain things and that such decisions are minuted. If people want to know what is going on, suggest they ask to see copies of minutes. This is really important as the GB role is strategic.
  13. Thanks for both your responses montiagh and grrmummy. I will certainly look at that website and register a request. I had been thinking of doing this with the GB itself actually as we have recently had a new playground surface ptu down and it's so bad it's not funny - it's a skating rink when there's a frost and a lake when it rains! What a waste of our money.

    But that's beside the point.

    I am sorry to hear what you went through grrmummy - it's almost as if people don't realise that just because they might be standing in a playground it doesn't mean they can act like children!

    And montiagh - what a nice comment from that head - my levels of integrity and send of justice are just off the chart and sometimes my honesty gets me in trouble because I am so open and others are not as scrupulous as I am. As we can see when i requested those ballot papers when I could have just photocopied them or used the duplicates the office had incorrectly sent out.

    I think though that the COG is now realising what a massive mistake he has made in his knee jerk reaction prompted by a head that is terrified I will get on the board because she knows then she will start having to actually be accountable.

    The heartening thing is that so many parents have actually said how behind me they are because they know the issues at the school and agree the head needs to be more accountable, less defensive and certainly more inclusive with the parents.

    I am writing my formal complaint today and will let you know how I get on and keep you posted on how I get on with the other things you have suggested too.

    Thanks again - it's so nice to know that you don't think I am overreacting and that what has happened is just inexcusable!
  14. grrmummy

    grrmummy New commenter

    Yes - sorry if my post wasn't clear. Schools do seem to think that parents have nothing to do other than to engage in gossip. What I am really saying is if you are elected, make sure you understand your role because petty and untruthful allegations can (and do) be made so make sure you don't give them any rope. I had a landslide victory I am pleased to say, but it didn't make my life any easier as a governor!

    Re your comments about the safety of the playground - This is important. Parent or governor, I would be politely and explictly identifying the risk and asking what steps are being taken to address it through the school's own risk assessment.

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