With friends like these...

Governors will soon be legally obliged to be 'critical friends' to schools. But heads fear that such a role may be a recipe for confrontation. Karen Thornton reports

GOVERNORS' role as a "critical friend" to schools is to be enshrined in law, despite protests from heads.

New regulations will formalise the role - defined as giving constructive criticism and support

to heads in the performance of their functions.

However heads fear the duty to be "critical" will encourage governing bodies to take a negative stance to their running of the school.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers says: "I did object strongly to the phrase

'critical friend,' because it is fundamentally wrong to put a word like 'critical' into legislation. It gives the green light to governing bodies to adopt a critical


In consultations on the regulations, the NAHTsaid it preferred the phrase "questioning evaluators" - a term dismissed by

ministers. Officials are insisting that the new regulations must not be a "rubber-stamping

charter" for headteachers.

The new regulations set out the roles and responsibilities of governors and heads, stressing the "broadly" strategic role of the former in raising standards.

Despite his concerns, Mr Hart says he generally welcomes the regulations, and agrees with them that governors should take a strategic role and headteachers a managerial one.

The draft regulations - which will soon be debated by Parliament - say governing bodies should act "with integrity, objectivity, and honesty in the best interests of the school," accordig to the Nolan principles of standards in public life.

They should be as open as

possible in their decision-making, and prepared to explain their actions to "interested

persons", including the media.

But governing bodies will be able to decide which issues to keep confidential. What's more, no appeal process has been

established to challenge their decisions to do so.

This has worried council officers involved in governor training who say they have come across instances of excessive secrecy in some schools.

One, speaking at a briefing with Department for Education and Employment officials on the draft regulations, said a couple of schools had even labelled headteachers' termly reports

confidential when asked for copies for the director of education.

Another claimed a minority of schools were using confidentiality to prevent parents and other members of the community from accessing legitimate information.

"Where heads are less open they tend to gather around them governors who are also content to be less open than they might be," she added.

But Chris Gale, chairwoman of the National Governors'

Council, said: "If a head's report names pupils, you can't let that out.

"It's down to governing bodies to decide what in the head's report goes into the minutes (which are public documents)."

The regulations - expected to take effect from September 1 - will be supported by a code of practice, yet to be produced.

See www.dfee.gov.ukgovernorconsult.htm for the consultation documents on the Education (School Government) (Terms of Reference) (England) Regulations 2000

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