When the head and bursar fall out

Wednesday 01 November 2017

It is not unusual for the key school leaders to fall out. Sometimes there is a conflict between when a head wants to spend money and the bursar feels that it is an unnecessary cost. Or the head offers bursaries without consultation because they are aware that the school is currently in surplus.

If these scenarios are repeated, the relationship can break down.

The risks

  • Low staff morale due to mixed messages.
  • A lack of direction.
  • A weakening of business and financial controls.
  • One or both may end up leaving the school.

Why does it happen?
There is always the possibility of a personality clash in all walks of life. In this case, the two will be from different work backgrounds: one vocational via teaching, while the other will have experience from a commercial or large organisational set-up. But schools need both to work together effectively. Their roles are complementary.

What can governors do?
This is an operational issue and the governors are there to set strategy. However, if the school is in stasis, something must be done.

The chair needs to intervene. The approach, however, needs to be even-handed towards both head and bursar. The scope of their respective roles should be clearly defined so that one doesn’t intrude on the areas of responsibility of the other. If there is a clear bursary policy, for instance, then both should follow it.

There should be a clear strategic plan devised by the governing body with input from both the head and bursar to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

There should also be a formal weekly meeting between the head and bursar to address any issue, and to allow for clear communication between the two.

Finally, the chair should meet both separately, perhaps every half-term, to address any potential conflicts.

There is a free video about this, along with other governance topics, that schools can share here.