A TRAINING scheme praised by schools minister Estelle Morris goes online today.
The TES website is providing exclusive Internet access to the Business and Technology Education Council's award for governors. The award, developed by Essex education authority and exams body Edexcel Foundation, recognises the skills which individuals are picking up by serving on governing bodies.
With plans for all schools to be on the Government's National Grid for Learning, every governor should soon be able to access the Internet and the training opportunities offered by distance-learning programmes like the Essex BTEC.
Fred Browning, Essex's senior adviser on governor training, says: "It is going to solve a lot of communication problems. There are people in the far corners of Essex who cannot make contact with a mentor or get support."
But there is also extensive interest in other parts of the country. For example, the connection will help the 700 governors employed by high-street bank Lloyds TSB, which backs staff taking on the role. Lloyds TSB had been on the look-out for a way of benchmarking the skills it believed its staff were acquiring from serving as governors.
Linda Hyland, a manager with the bank in Derbyshire, is chair of finance at two schools, Newhall infant and nursery and Repton primary. She was daunted when she first checked out the award.
"I saw the amount of detail, and wondered how I was going to do it all. But then I got out my minutes and paperwork and I found a lot of the things I had been involved in, slotted in."
The award, piloted in 1997 and launched a year later, defines governors' five responsibilities - strategic; monitoring; executive; accountability; and support. Governors should demonstrate competence by building up a portfolio which could include reports of visits and activities and assessments by other governors and staff of the contribution they are making to the running of the school.
An experienced governor may well have mastered all the areas of competency. A new board member might take longer to build up a portfolio, as they acquire experience.
The award has already hd high-profile support from schools minister Estelle Morris, who last year cited it as the kind of training accreditation that governors should be seeking.
So far 25 Essex governors have been awarded the BTEC and another 60 are preparing for it. One school governor, Judith Ogan, subsequently went on to do a master's degree, and her research evaluated the scheme. She concluded that even one governor taking the BTEC could have a positive effect on their board's work.
One governor quoted in her study said: "Generally it has given me much more confidence. When I went to the governing body there were all these men in suits and I thought they knew what they were talking about - but not after doing the award."
For Heather Byron-Foster, studying via a computer is natural. She took a degree in education with the Open University through distance learning and has just completed a certificate of education in good governance and hopes to teach in the future. A governor at two schools, Edward Francis infant and Edward Francis junior in Rayleigh, Essex, her two children are in Years 4 and 5.
"It's not exactly time consuming, but you have to find the time to record what you are doing," she said.
Beverley Livingston took the award as part of her personal development. She is now an assessor on the London Borough of Newham's own scheme.
"When I was first asked to do it and I saw the brief I thought 'Oh my God, it's going to be a lot of work'. But I found it helpful in defining the parameters of my role and I learned a lot of new things.
"As a parent governor you are asked if you would like to be involved with the school, but I didn't really understand the job. After doing the BTEC I thought, 'Gosh this is what I should be doing.' "
Governors have been complaining for years that they are unpaid and undervalued. And many have been unsure how to equip themselves for the job.
The BTEC award is a long overdue excuse for governors to blow their own trumpets and show how their experience is valuable elsewhere. With online access there is no excuse to hold back.
Information on the BTEC award can be accessed by clicking on the governors pages at www.tes.co.uk. For Exexcel's helpline telephone 0207 393 4377