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Governors loath to do the dirty work

Heads are likely to find themselves short of their right-hand men and women, reports Emma Burstall. Schools have been warned to brace themselves for a severe shortage of governors in the autumn which will be exacerbated if the Government does not fully fund this year's teachers' pay award.

There are likely to be about 60,000 vacancies as one third of governors finish their term of office at the end of the summer, according to a survey carried out by Action for Governors' Information and Training and the National Association of Governors and Managers.

Simon Goodenough, chair of the National Governors' Council, said: "The mood of schools as they are forced to look at the possibility of further cuts will make a substantial difference to whether people decide to serve as governors.

"Already governors have to spend enormous amounts of time, at the expense of improving their school, worrying about how they are going to make ends meet. People won't want to become governors simply to sack teachers."

The teachers' pay body is due to report in the next few weeks. The Government will announce the size of the award very soon after, and it will come into effect on April 1.

Sue Nicholson, assistant secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said there was clear anecdotal evidence that recruitment problems were forcing many schools to work with fewer governors than they need.

Recent reports of failing schools and governing bodies being charged with unfair dismissal after sacking heads could put people off further, she claimed.

"If I were Joe Bloggs sitting at home thinking about doing some voluntary work I'd probably decide to wheel a trolley round a local hospital rather than serve as a governor. Recruitment is likely to be even more difficult this year than last," she added.

Hadrian Southorn, chair of NAGM, said many would-be governors were put off by complex legislation or because they could not spare the time. The fact that few schools paid babysitting fees and some did not even offer travel expenses was also a deterrent, especially for single mothers and other low-income groups.

Most governors had to attend at least two governing body meetings per term, plus several sub-committees and, perhaps, training sessions.

"I don't think we're going to get the 60,000 governors we need on a plate. We're going to have to encourage people. Governors are the largest groups of unpaid civil servants in the country," said Mr Southorn.

Keith Beck, co-founder of the NGC and vice-chair of governors at Icknield school, Watlington, an 11-16 comprehensive in Oxfordshire, is also concerned about being able to fill governor vacancies in 1996.

He said: "Many governors have been thinking: 'I don't want to do this. I didn't become a governor to make teachers redundant.' Education is in crisis. It's getting harder to cope because of a lack of resources and a lot of governors are getting cheesed off."

The NAGMAGIT survey into the prospects for governor recruitment in 1996, published last summer, showed local authorities believed governor resignations had increased over the past two years.

Although personal factors, usually to do with family or work, were cited as the most common reason for resigning, significant numbers of ex-governors said they could not cope with the work.

Last November, Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, told the National Governors' Council that it was heartening that more than half of governors were thought likely to be prepared to serve a further term.

But she said local campaigns would be needed to persuade thousands of new recruits to sign up.

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