Governors tuned up to sing out with one voice

At last, a national organisation that has something to shout about.

Stephen Adamson reports

School governors aren't known for using their elbows. Generally we are a polite lot, happy to help, but not keen on elbowing our way through uninterested crowds. We also don't put our elbows on top tables much, and when we do we are inclined to modestly keep them close to our bodies.

The discreet approach may be the best way to achieve results at school level, but the time has come when governors have to make more noise nationally. There is a lot going on where governors' views need to be solicited and their contribution agreed, such as our role in extended schools, implementation of Every Child Matters, improvement of school food.

But there's even more that worries governors and where many feel their schools' interests are threatened: the slow erasure of local authorities, so-called parental choice with less parental representation, erosion of accountability, the stretch of the private sector into the management of state-funded schools, initiative overload from central government.

Enter then, not by happy accident but by design, the new single national organisation of governors. On January 1 the National Governors' Council and the National Association of School Governors bowed out and were replaced by a single, merged entity, the National Governors' Association.

The annual general meetings of both organisations voted overwhelmingly for the merger in the autumn. It's not difficult to see why. In some respects it's a marriage made in heaven. The two organisations have complementary strengths: the NGC has the mechanisms to discover what its members are thinking and represent their views, NASG provides services including a regular magazine and other publications.

Geographical and historical factors have shaped their memberships, so their membership does not usually overlap. The NGC has developed a strong income stream from consultative work; NASG's finances are built on a steady membership income.

More important is what they have in common - both are dedicated to furthering and supporting governance with the aim of best serving our school-age children. The aims of the two organisations as expressed in their memoranda could have been drawn up by the same people.

The time was ripe for merger in many ways. For long periods in the past it would not have been possible as initial acrimony rankled for years with members of each. But for the past couple of years the two organisations have been working closely together, often representing governors at the same meetings with ministers and civil servants and generally conveying similar messages. But had the merger not happened such harmony would have been unlikely to last as each would have sought to expand by moving more into the other's territory.

So what does it mean for governors? For one thing, it means no more confusion. "Oh, is there another governors' organisation? What does it do? Which one am I member of?" is now a thing of the past. It means that an organisation that already represents governors in two thirds of England's local authorities is a more obvious must-join for the rest. It means that energy is not dissipated in duplication of administrative work or on those points where there was some competition. It means that the elected representatives of governors can work out how best to spread their attendance in the appropriate forums. It means that the organisation can make links with other representative associations in education to make common cause when appropriate.

But mostly it means that governors will have a single, strong voice, that when the national governor organisation speaks it can say it is speaking on behalf of the governors of this country, and not be discounted by those in power because it is only one of two. Heavens knows, governors have little enough power in this system, and more than ever they need to learn to be clever with what they have got. It means more power to their elbows.

Stephen Adamson, vice-chair, National Association of School Governors

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