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European network planned

An historic school governors' summit in Birmingham last week will pave the way for a Europe-wide network of school board members and governors.

Governors and board members from six countries discussed differences in governors' roles and education systems, and examined common interests.

Inadequate spending on schools, lack of training and the time pressures on what, in every country, are volunteers, seem to be universal problems, as is the relationship between governors and headteachers.

In Flemish-speaking Belgium, schools have the option of being governed in a cluster or singly. It is not unusual, in this system, for school board members to govern 10 schools. There are even those who run 70.

In Greece the Ministry of Education has deemed that heads can only remain in position for four years. Centralisation means that the ministry runs the schools, allowing school boards only nominal control over budget decisions.

In Portugal, the only country represented besides Britain to offer training for governors, the ministry has total responsibility over the budget though some schools help to generate their own revenue by putting on music and drama productions. An experimental pilot programme is looking at the effectiveness of creating a two-tier school board, one of which deals solely with administrative business and the other with pedagogic affairs.

The two-day conference was hosted by Birmingham, co-ordinated by the city's governor trainer Nargis Rashid and funded by the European Union under the SOCRATES programme, the first EU initiative to make European funding available to schools.

The next step in this exchange is to collate information on how school boards operate.

Another meeting, probably in October, will attempt to draw governors from the rest of the European Union member states to establish a cross-Europe network with a view to forming an association of European governors.

According to Nargis Rashid, the time is right and the will is there to get such a group up and running.

"There is a need for a network of European governors but it's something that people haven't taken account of until now.

"The idea of democratising education is seen by European school board members as an important issue to be developing, but there are problems, like the absence of clearly-defined roles, lack of training and insufficient power. The more we share our experiences and look at each other's practices, the more we will learn and be able to achieve in the future."

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