Code scaled down to guide

A controversial guide for school governors was finally published this week after months of wrangling.

Guidance on Good Governance started life as a code of conduct designed by the National Association of Head Teachers, whose members complained of interference by governors in the daily life of their schools. They said governors enjoyed power but were less keen on their responsibilities.

The 24-page booklet, which emerged after two years from a working party set up by the Department for Education and Employment, is a guide with no legal force. It represents a victory for the governors' associations over the NAHT.

Walter Ulrich, spokesman for the National Association of Governors and Managers, said: "We objected to a code, as it is totally wrong to limit the discretion of governing bodies to take what action they are legally entitled to, and in the light of local circumstances."

He said the booklet should be regarded as advice, not guidance. Guidance implied you departed from it at your peril whereas advice was designed to make governors more reflective and take account of good practice, he said.

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "What's in a name? We're not particularly concerned what it's called." He added that as the report had taken "blood sweat and tears" to produce, he was pleased it had seen the light of day.

The association wanted to ensure that all governing bodies had a clear view of governance and management. Governors should focus on strategic issues and policy-making, leaving managagement to heads and senior colleagues, he said.

"Now we must see if we can translate good guidance into effective operation in schools throughout the country."

The long-awaited guide was welcomed this week by both heads and governors. The working party was drawn from heads' and governors' associations, church bodies and the Society of Education Officers. Chaired by Geoffrey Williams, former deputy education officer for Hertfordshire, it aimed to clarify the role of the head in relation to that of the governing body following damaging public rows in the early days of the 1988 Education Reform Act.

* Guidance on good governance, is available free, from the DFEE, Publications Centre, PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ. It sets out the seven principles of the second Nolan Committee report on standards in public life; the responsibilities of the governing body and the head in relation to the curriculum, staffing and finance, giving examples; advice on complaints procedures, meetings, prospectuses, annual reports and a checklist of information for governors.

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