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Is the burden too great?

Karen Thornton on a survey which has found governors becoming a touch cynical.

NO vexation without remuneration appears to be governors' new battle cry, based on the findings of a TES-commissioned survey.

Governors want their responsibilities reduced, or else to be paid for the increasing time and trouble involved in supporting their schools. And their attitudes towards their current responsibilities have hardened since they were questioned for a similar survey last year.

The National Association of Governors and Managers' survey is based on responses from 272 governors from around the country. Author Jane Phillips says the sample is small and unrepresentative of most governors, with more than half having served as chairs of their boards.

But it does give a clear indication of how well-informed and experienced governors are feeling - increasingly cynical about government initiatives, overburdened with red tape, and resentful of their responsibilities.

"This year a degree of cynicism has crept into responses. There is a questioning of motives which was not apparent last year. This is particularly apparent in their attitude to government initiatives," says Mrs Phillips.

But ministers can draw comfort from governors' increased acceptance of responsibility for performance management - up from 40 to 50 per cent.

Governors still agree on the things they think they should be doing. These include setting aims and policies of the school; selecting the head; monitoring the budget; drawing up the development plan; producing an annual report for parents; providing a link to the local community; making arrangements for staff grievances to be heard; agreeing general principles on discipline and deciding special needs policies.

These areas got positive responses from 85 per cent or more of respondents. Holding an annual parents' meeting was still seen as an appropriate responsibility by 80 per cent - but that was down from 88 per cent in 1999, with many indicating that meetings were so poorly attended as to be a waste of time.

But attitudes have hardened towards the responsibilities governors were less sure should be theirs in 1999. Less than half felt they should be deciding the timings of school sessions; arranging meetings between Office for Standards in Education inspectors and parents; deciding pay levels for all staff; setting statutory key stage targets and reporting on them; distributing the OFSTED report; promoting staff; ensuring parents receive annual reports on their childrn; ensuring the special needs of statemented children are met; disciplining staff; keeping the school free of litter; and keeping a pupil attendance register.

Only 32 per cent of governors feel they should be responsible for statemented children, compared to 49 per cent last year.

Responsibilities garnering middling support in 1999 - between 50 and 80 per cent - have also been hit. Only 73 per cent feel they should be monitoring the curriculum, compared to 81 per cent last year. Similarly, fewer governors feel they should be carrying the can for health and safety, appointing staff, deciding school conduct, presenting the home-school agreement to parents, and controlling the use of premises outside the school day.

Again, the only exception was in performance management, this time over appraising the head - where 63 per cent believe they should be responsible, compared to 55 per cent last year.

Governors suggest some management responsibilities should be transferred down to headteachers, while others - particularly for health and safety - might be more appropriately handled by the professional staff of local education authorities.

However, despite the pressures, most governors still say they get a lot of satisfaction from serving their schools - mainly from providing support, participating in children's education, team-working with staff and other governors, and "putting something back".

Red tape remains the biggest headache, with governors this year using much more forceful language - referring to stifling bureaucracy; paper mountains; and irrelevant, biased, confusing, and pointless information. Financial constraints, central government interference, poor relationships with staff, and problems recruiting other governors were also highlighted.

Both the DFEE and councils were censured, for too much interference and not enough support.

Governors surveyed this year said offering support should be their key role, whereas in 1999 they said raising standards of achievement. Ensuring local accountability remains the second priority. Governors prefer to see themselves as trustees and "protectors of the best interests of children" - rather than as non-executive directors, the model preferred by the Better Regulation Task Force.

The survey concludes that the time has come for proper analysis of what governors do, before any further changes are made.

Governing Body Responsibilities: Still Too Great a Load? will be available from NAGM shortly. Telephone 0121 643 5787.

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