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Code loses governors' support

The draft policy intended to improve relations between governing bodies and councils has run into trouble.

GOVERNORS are withdrawing their support for the Government's code of practice intended to establish the relationship between governing bodies and their local authority.

The move follows claims that a council has sacked governors and suspended the budget at an improving primary school.

Both the unidentified school and the National Governors' Council have made official complaints about the council's actions to the Education Secretary David Blunkett, and are awaiting his response.

Pat Petch, the NGC's chairman, said the case showed the current draft code was weighted in favour of education authorities - and would not protect governing bodies against unlawful or unreasonable actions taken by their local councils.

At the NGC's annual general meeting last weekend, delegates backed the decision to withdraw support for the code, pending further discussions with the Department for Education and Employment. The final version of the code - which sets out schools and education authorities' mutual obligations and powers, and leaves the Education Secretary as the final arbiter of disputes - is due out shortly.

Ms Petch said the education authority suspended the school's budget and served notice of the authority's intention to appoint additional members. According to the draft code, such powers should only be used in extreme circumstances, for example in failing schools where governors are not felt to be taking appropriate remedial action - and only after formal warnings.

The school's governors had also been left unable to take independent legal advice, because the budget was suspended and the authority refused access to its insurers, she claimed. They turned to the NGC's helpline and have since obtained free legal advice.

"We previously supported the code of practice, but a substantial difficulty has emerged because of what we see as a lack of protection for governing bodies if the local authority has acted unreasonably or unlawfully," said Ms Petch.

She is calling for changes to the code, a freeze on any actions once a complaint has been made, and a formal and open complaints procedure. Governors should also seriously consider taking out their own liability insurance from next April, rather than continuing to "buy back" the service from education authorities, she said.

The NGC represents 74 local associations of governors, covering around half of England's education authorities.

The DFEE declined to comment.

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