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Don't they do well?;Briefing;Governors

Simon Bird on local authority support for governors

LOCAL AUTHORITIES consistently offer satisfactory support for school governors. Surprised? That's what The Education Network found on analysing reports of the dozen local authorities inspected since the Office for Standards in Education changed its framework in January.

When you consider that a quarter of the authorities inspected had been judged to be causing so much concern that they have been subject to intervention under the new School Standards and Framework Act, the finding by the network - an independent information service, funded by local authority subscription - is all the more striking.

Under the inspection framework for councils, headteachers are now surveyed on a wide range of services provided by their authority. Three of these relate directly to supporting governors: information and advice to the governing body; governing body constitution and appointments; and appointment of heads and deputy heads.

Heads are asked to rate the services within a range of poor to very good. In those surveyed so far, these three services were rated as satisfactory to good. All 12 authorities, moreover, were rated as satisfactory or better across each of the three services (when rounded up or down to). On the face of it such results may not exactly appear dazzling. What they do show, however, at least for this cohort, is that authorities are broadly consistent in the way they support governors.

The survey findings, moreover, show only a partial picture. In order to tease out a more rounded picture of the authorities' support for governors, the inspectors follow up the survey findings, and other performance data including school inspection reports, through school visits. As part of the visit, normally at least the chair of governors is interviewed. It is this contact, together with meetings with school staff, which is designed to enable the inspectors to evaluate the authority's support. Essentially, the inspectors will judge the extent to which the school has improved or deteriorated since its last inspection, and the authority's contribution. These more focused enquiries identify good practice and areas requiring development.

In short, inspectors reveal that strengths of authority support for governors far outweigh the weaknesses. This is positive recognition of the effort put in by authorities to supporting governors in their key role.While many authorities already warmly embrace the commitment to continuous improvement, the imperative to do so has never been greater. This is the major thrust behind the "best-value" initiative, which local government will have to implement from next April.

Meanwhile, local authorities are already feeling the pressure of increased delegation precipitated by the introduction of Fair Funding since April.

Greater transparency in the costs of services provided by the authority means that governors will be able to tell if they are being offered value for money - and will have the option of purchasing services from alternative providers.

In addition, local authorities and governing bodies alike are coming up to the first anniversary of their statutory duty to promote high standards in their schools. Improving the support authorities provide for governors ought to make a major contribution to what the Government calls its standards agenda.

Simon Bird, policy officer of The Education Network, will be talking at two seminars organised by Community Education Development Centre on September 23 and 29. For details, tel 01203-655700.

This analysis is included in a revised guide for local education authorities to preparing for inspection, which will be launched at a seminar on November 17 to be addressed by chief inspector Chris Woodhead and Wendy Thomson, director of inspection for the Audit Commission.

Details on: 0171 490 4942.

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