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GEST changes threaten training

Since 1986 local authorities have been required by law to provide "such training as they think requisite" for governors. There has been a vast expansion and improvement in development and support since then and, in my experience, the local education authority training teams have been the heart and soul of this process.

Their quality owes much to the recruitment of many people accustomed to working in voluntary or modestly funded organisations who are no strangers to improvisation, creative networking and imaginative use of limited resources. These, with LEA officers from more traditional backgrounds who have been enthused and inspired by such a rewarding task, have achieved impressive value for money.

The money in recent times has come mostly from government grants for education support and training (GEST). Some of this (GEST 1) is delegated to schools, though many willingly buy back local authority services. Other grants (GEST 5) have been used to provide a framework within which training can be assured. In some small authorities, GEST 5 has been the only guarantee of a salary for one officer to organise training for governors.

GEST 5 is now to be abolished; GEST 1 is to be subsumed in a broad "school effectiveness grant" which will not distinguish between the development of staff and the development of governors.

The danger to governor training is obvious. There will be powerful forces at work in schools - understandably - to maximise the funds available for professional development, and with no protection of even a modest sum for training, governors would have to fight hard in many schools to get a share.

Fighting hard for their own development is not something that comes naturally to governors they are reluctant to take anything "from the children", and they will see competition for staff development funds in this light.

It is not even clear whether governors will have a say in how this grant is spent. A DFE official in a letter to the governor training network, Action for Governors' Information and Training (AGIT), said that "it had always been intended that in all cases governing bodies should pay an important part in deciding how GEST funds should be used, just as they should in determining how the school's overall budget was spent".

Surely such an important statement should be shared with all headteachers and governors and given wide publicity?

Apart from the issue of "who decides?" however, the abolition of GEST 5, and the lumping together of governor training with other powerfully defended school needs, make all those concerned with governor training feel very anxious.

How serious is the DFE about supporting our development? Can we persuade it to change its mind and make governor training secure?

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