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Degree of recognition;Briefing;Governors

You put in the time, but do you get anything for yourself? Carolyn O'Grady investigates a new scheme offeringgovernors qualifications

Committed governors have to learn a great deal. Management skills and recruitment and staff development are only part of it. But at the end of the day do they have anything to show prospective employers or a college of higher or further education? At present no.

Though the Government has said it will soon be publishing a list of good practice in governor training and support, schemes which award governor's achievements have been slow to emerge.

Last month, however, one did. Essex's governor development team launched an advanced BTEC certificate, providing a nationally recognised qualification which could lead on to further qualifications. Devised with the help of the Learning Through Experience Trust, it has been piloted for two years. The first governors recently received their awards.

Fred Browning, the development team head, is the driving force. "Governors kept telling us they enjoyed the work and courses we organised, but they wanted to have the learning recognised. This award is about acknowledging what governors are already doing," he says, while emphasising that "it is not a qualification to become a governor".

Equivalent to A-level and above - or national vocational qualification levels 3 and 4 - "the award is designed both for experienced governors who will be able to test what they have learned and novices who can use it to manage their learning. A new governor could complete the award in around 18 months, an experienced one would need much less time," he says.

Governors have to demonstrate their contribution and commitment by putting together a portfolio of evidence made up of reports by themselves and others on their work. It could, for example, be a report by themselves on an area of school policy they have helped to develop or an account by the head or another governor who has observed them during a meeting or a school visit. They are supported by mentors and assessed by trained assessors who are also experienced governors.

Julie Fahy is one of the first six to complete the award. A parent-governor at St George's primary school in Great Bromley for four years, she is an ex-teacher with three children. With her youngest child just starting school Julie can now look ahead to a new job or a return to higher education.

"I was getting such a lot of experience that I would not have got as a teacher and I wanted it recognised. It was hard work, but you don't need to become actively involved in every aspect of governance; though you do need to understand what everyone else is doing. So, for example, I sat in on some finance meetings, a subject I didn't know much about."

Lyn Morris, a governor at Epping Upland CE primary school, has also completed the award. "It pulled together everything I'd been learning and showed me the gaps in my knowledge. I also proved to myself that I'm still capable of learning and studying", she says. She hopes to go on to do a degree.

Both found the award acted as a catalyst for change. Julie Fahy credits it with helping her governing body come to grips with monitoring. "The unit forced me to think how we were going to overcome our problems. We've now reorganised our committee structure, formalised the visits programme and changed the relationship between teachers and the curriculum committee. We did it a lot quicker because I had to complete my BTEC."

At present around 75 Essex governors are doing the course, which is offered free to those whose governing body subscribes to the county's training programme.

Local authorities have shown interest, as well as commercial organisations. One is Lloyds TSB, which estimates that around 800 of their employees are governors. As a strand of their staff development, they will encourage these staff to do the award and provide networking and summer school support. "They sensibly see it as a way to give their personnel extra transferable skills in subjects such as employment, law, public speaking and tribunals," says Fred Browning.

Twelve local education authorities have approached the unit and will shortly be implementing the programme; many other authorities have shown interest. Among them is Birmingham, whose coordinator for governor training, Nargis Rashid, has been investigating mechanisms for recognising governors achievements. She sees it as a way of helping to attract and retain governors, including those from ethnic minorities.

"The DFEE has been dragging its feet over this sort of scheme," she said. "It would be wonderful if there was a national framework of training and support. Being a governor is a huge adult education exercise; they do an incredible amount. This is the least we can do ."

Further information on the School Governance: Contribution and Commitment BTEC Award can be obtained from the Essex Governor Development Team on 01245 494443.

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