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Amateurs or professionals?

Forty years ago, governors met once a term, listened to the headteacher's report and had tea. Yes, these governors were truly "amateurs", the great and the good untrained supporters of the school. Strategic direction, holding the school to account and acting as critical friends were yet to be defined as part of the governor's role.

The introduction of local management of schools in 1988 was the turning point. Since then, schools have been challenged by successive government-led initiatives, heaping ever more responsibility on to governing bodies. These duties require governors to be trained first as new governors and later for performance management, health and safety, child protection, financial management etc.

Amateur implies those who love what they do. Watching 65 primary children on stage in a Christmas play or handing out prizes to young adults at the end of their school careers gives governors a sense of pride and pleasure.

Professional describes those who may love and enjoy what they do, but are paid. Money is involved in governance, but it is an inverse relationship: using free time and unpaid leave to attend training, interviews for staff, monitoring visits - all these cost governors money. Although entitled to claim expenses, governors can be contrary in that they will not stint the staff continuing professional development budget, but are reluctant to invest in their own development.

There are those who will dismiss governors as "untrained amateurs". Around the table are governors with a range of knowledge, skills and expertise. For example, a number of retirees, including headteacher, education consultant, accountant and research scientist; and several in work: property developer, hairdresser, vicar, two teachers and a head.

Amateur or professional? What other education system has 350,000 volunteers committed to education and sharing the benefits of professional expertise with future generations combined with the enthusiasm of the amateur.

Carol Woodhouse, Member of the board of directors of the National Governors' Association.

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