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Follow that dream with One Stop Shop

You don't have to be a parent - or live in the area - to be a governor. Laurence Pollock reports on the business route

PAT Ashworth knocked the other governors sideways when she suggested using the Glowinkowski predisposition indicator to help select a new headteacher.

She is familiar with the psychometric test because she works in human resources as head of communication and development at Co-operative Financial Services.

But it was a culture shock for the board at St John Bosco girls'

comprehensive school in Liverpool. The appointed head has been a success and the Mother Provincial of the Salesian Sisters, which runs the school, wants Ms Ashworth to show the order how to use GPI in their own leadership development.

Pat Ashworth is an unusual governor, however. She does not live within the education authority, she has no children and she does a demanding "day" job in Manchester. But she is a former pupil and harboured a dream of putting something back into the community. It was School Governors' One Stop Shop (SGOSS) that helped her realise this dream in adult life, despite an absence of local connections. A private company with charitable status, it recruits governor volunteers for hard-to-fill vacancies in primary and secondary schools.

Initially in inner-city (Excellence in Cities) areas it has now branched out into leafier areas of southern England. About half of England's education authorities are covered.

One Stop Shop recognises two realities: the shortage of governors coming through traditional LEA co-opted routes and the value of recruits with financial and business expertise. Both factors are particularly acute in areas of high deprivation and social exclusion.

One Stop Shop will set up its stall in the foyer of a large corporate headquarters and put out a message to potential volunteers. Alternatively, those with a yen to get involved but who cannot see a way through the LEA thickets can approach One Stop Shop.

Pat Ashworth, for instance, was heading up her company's vigorous staff community involvement programme. But something was missing.

"I felt I couldn't lead if I didn't embody it. We have a lot of staff involved in education - mentoring and paired reading, for instance. One Stop Shop had already been in touch with us and I asked if I could serve as a governor, if there was a vacancy, at my old school."

Others are less focused on a particular school. Anna Rust, for instance, wanted to "pay her dues" but did not want to be a governor at her daughter's school in Nottingham. She believed that parenthood, however, was the sole qualification for a seat on the governing board. One Stop Shop opened her eyes to the chance to serve elsewhere.

"I was working for Alliance and Leicester and there was a One Stop Shop stand in the foyer," she says. "Its representative gave me the forms and arranged for the LEA to contact me. There are some interesting challenges at the school where I am now a governor and I feel there is some value I can add."

Gareth Roberts is another recruit unfamiliar with the traditional routes in. He runs an engineering business in Sheffield, lives in Birmingham and has a long experience of voluntary work. He heard about One Stop Shop through the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.

He now serves on Warren Farm primary's board, and believes the Birmingham school is doing well. He would be happy to move on to another school via One Stop Shop.

The company receives core funding from the Government and sponsorship from, among others, the City of London, United Biscuits and John Laing.

Acting as a broker, it builds relationships with LEAs and checks on how promptly authorities are able to place volunteers who have been passed through. It will also look out for volunteers meeting a particular specification. Last year it attracted 143 volunteers from Birmingham, nearly 220 in London and 84 each in Manchester and Leeds.

A fifth of last year's recruits were from black and ethnic-minority backgrounds. The company did, however, miss its 2002 target for volunteers by a hair's breadth and by a greater margin in 2001.

Director Steve Acklam says the 2001 figure was due to business setbacks after September 11. And he is unwilling to talk about placement comparisons between LEAs.

One Stop Shop suggests new governors should serve at least two years and ideally four. The suggested time commitment is six to eight hours monthly, although the company does not enquire about availability to go into school during the day. But Mr Acklam is pleased with the recruits.

"Surveys show 95 per cent stay for longer than a year," he said.

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