Get trained, union tells governors

Clare Dean

The NASUWT wants to see an end to disputes over power, says Clare Dean

The new government will face demands from teachers for obligatory training for school governors and testing of their abilities in the wake of the high-profile disputes over disruptive pupils.

The call comes from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) whose members were involved in recent battles over pupil exclusions at Glaisdale, Hebburn, Manton and The Ridings schools.

At its annual conference in Bournemouth last week, the union expressed concern at the way governors are discharging their duties. And it passed a motion calling on the Department for Education and Employment to establish obligatory training for governors before they take up their posts, assessment of them, and a means of arbitration so that concerns over a governing body's conduct could be resolved.

The DFEE, which brought out a guide on good governance last year, is already planning a review of governors and their powers, while Nottinghamshire, where warring governors and head were blamed for the dispute at Manton junior, is developing a code of conduct of its own.

NASUWT delegates heard that behind the four major disputes which hit the headlines last year were many more incidents where the actions of governors had allegedly been contrary to the school's best interests. Teachers from south Devon have accumulated a catalogue of them which they said frequently concerned a governor who had a distorted idea of his importance.

Paul Whittaker, from south Devon, said: "They range from the parent governor who will see fit to prevail upon teachers in their classrooms, and then choose to share it with other parents at the school gates, to that loose cannon of the education service, the chair of governors who struts about the manor, patronising pupils and making demands of the heads or school administrator. "

John Peebles, from Worksop, complained of governors who believed they were inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education. They walked unannounced into classrooms and sat at the back with clipboards. He spoke of a chairman of governors who asked to see all the staff's appraisal reports and convinced the head he had the right, and a governor who approached a teacher who had applied for a responsibility allowance and said: "It would be helpful if you agreed to individually tutor my son for his A-level."

The union said it recognised the vast majority of governors exercised their role in a conscientious way but delegates were worried about the lack of accountability of governing bodies.

Just a handful of delegates voted against the motion despite warning that forcing governors to go on obligatory training before taking up their posts could deter many from standing.

"Don't make it too complicated or frightening for the lay governors, or you won't have any," said Kebir Berry, from Wakefield. "We are not all perfect; we ought to have people monitoring us."

A proposal that governors should be given the statutory right to paid time off work to undertake their duties was rejected on the grounds that it could lead to even more interference.

Ted Hargreaves, from Wrekin, said: "I would hate to see people who give their time and expertise for free put down." He urged delegates: "Don't forget the governors who campaign for better funding for your school, don't forget the governors who lobbied about your pensions".

Though they tend to be cited as examples of conflict between governors and teachers, The Ridings, Hebburn and Glaisdale governors backed decisions to exclude pupils; it was the local authorities' independent tribunals which insisted they return to school. The NASUWT wants these appeals panels abolished.

At Manton, governors did insist on the reinstatement of a pupil. A later inspection blamed staff and governors alike for poor management, lack of agreed policies, low expectations and confrontational disciplinary policies.

u A project sponsored by the DFEE at Sheffield Hallam University has identified the skills and competence required by governors. The DFEE is understood to believe that if properly accredited these could entitle governors to a national vocational qualification at level 4 or 5.

The Department to date has been reluctant to suggest any particular qualifications or competences are needed to be an effective governor, and regards checks on the suitability of elected and appointed governors as highly controversial.

Local authorities and the foundations of voluntary schools who appoint school governors can in some circumstances replace them if they see fit. But it appears that no one can dismiss or replace an elected teacher or parent governor or one co-opted by the elected and co-opted members of the governing body.

There is a legal right of appeal to the Education Secretary against a governing body that acts unreasonably or fails to carry out a statutory duty.

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