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The benefits of business acumen;Governors;Briefing

Carolyn O'Grady looks at how specialist schools are recruiting governors with commercial and administrative know-how

DO GOVERNORS with business or administrative experience have that extra special something to offer schools? The Technology Colleges Trust, a charity which acts as the central co-ordinating body for the specialist schools programme, thinks so, and has recently launched a new recruitment drive in England. The trust has sent letters and brochures to more than 1,000 businesses and other organisations.

"As schools go increasingly down the performance-related pay route, people with experience of information technology, finance and managing human resource will be useful," said Christine Prentice, TCT's director for external relations. "Part of the ethos of specialist schools is entrepreneurial."

Specialist schools are a growth area, with numbers due to expand from 400 to 800 by September 2003. When schools become specialist they can co-opt an additional two governors.

The scheme was developed from a pilot project involving Harvard Business School, which attracted 37 volunteers. Business Governors for Schools matches individuals with business experience to interested schools.

So what are the benefits for a specialist school? According to Delia Smith, head of St Angela's Ursuline Convent school, a specialist language college in Newham, London, whose governing body includes two people from the school's sponsoring company: "It's wonderful to have a different pair of eyes looking at things from a different direction."

She has found that governors from business have a good understanding of the procedure of meetings and how to be supportive of the chief executive.

"These governors are clearly supportive of what they see as success. They appreciate the complexities of running a large business and therefore a large school. They're wonderful allies and realise how complex the learning game is.

"They're also out there in the community promoting the school and education, and they can be good at raising money from outside commercial bodies."

"It's the rich mix which makes a governing body effective," said Roman Ruszczynski, head of Chellaston technology college, Derby, which has two governors from a major company and three who run their own companies.

"Governors with business or administrative experience bring a different ethos or approach. It's not all one way: sometimes our practice is better than industry's, especially in terms of team work."

Roger Hoyle, Liverpool health authority's chief executive, agreed. He was recruited as a governor at the city's Archbishop Blanch Church of England high school, a technology college.

He felt that he had helped put the school on a sound financial footing while, at the same time, it increased pupil numbers and modernised its buildings. His connections with the city had helped build bridges between the local authority and school.

Mike Gabitass, a retired investment banker, is now on the governing body of Hendon School, a specialist language college in north-west London.

"Freedom to manage is much more constrained than in business. But business disciplines can help in good spending."

More information from: Sue Germon, Technology Colleges Trust, 23rd Floor (West), Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London SW1P 4QP, e-mail or telephone 0171 802 2314.

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