Governors unite in bid for stronger voice

Merger promises better services and less confusion for a quarter of a million members. Alison Shepherd reports

Governors across the country are set to celebrate the marriage of their two champions in the new year, as the National Council of Governors and the National Association of School Governors become one. After years of discussion and many months of fine legal detailing during their official engagement, the two organisations are to merge under the title of the National Governors' Association on January 6.

The union will provide a mouthpiece for the views of nearly 245,000 governors - the combined membership of the two organisations, including the individuals who make up the 90 governors' associations that are affiliated to the NGC. There was almost a 90 per cent vote in favour of the merger at the groups' annual meetings. Jean McIntyre, currently NGC's chief executive, says that she was not surprised by the huge vote.

"Having two organisations was very confusing for members. They weren't always sure what the differences between us were, which they should join and why. The NGA will make things much clearer."

This is echoed by John Adams, chair of the NASG. "The rationale for the change was blindingly obvious. Now, no one would set up two governors'

organisations, both modestly funded and for the most part, run by volunteers."

Like all decent arranged marriages, this one promises to make the resulting family richer and far more influential in the world of education. The two organisations hope that economies of scale will allow them to offer a far more professional service to members.

"There will be a definite improvement in the services, with staff having more time and expertise to provide professionally prepared briefing papers and documents, not only for members, but for officers giving evidence at select committees for instance," says Mr Adams. He also points out that if there are to be any offers of funding, a single organisation will always be better placed to bid for them.

The NGA will be setting up home in the offices of NASG, with Ms McIntyre transferring her post to the new organisation. The NASG employs only administrative staff, so there was no competition for the top, paid role, nor will there be any redundancies from the merger. And, as the office is closer to Birmingham New Street station, the move is welcomed by Ms McIntyre's colleagues.

The boards that run the two separate groups will operate as one large 28-member body at first, but will probably be whittled down to a more manageable number as people resign or retire. The chairs and vice-chairs will operate in tandem until the board holds elections in the spring.

"We did not want to lose the knowledge and expertise of the individual trustees. And although there will obviously be a bedding-in period, we don't expect any conflict, just negotiation and agreement," says Ms McIntyre. "There has been lots of co-operation in the run-up to the merger and it is not unknown for one to represent the other at meetings, so co-operation is nothing new."

Ms McIntyre and Mr Adams are also convinced that a single voice will be far stronger when it comes to representing the views of governors to the powers that be.

"We will have a much higher profile with politicians and the rest of education, and as the only reason we are here is to represent and support governors that has to be good," says Ms McIntyre.

So, if it is all so "blindingly obvious", why were there ever two organisations in the first place? More than 30 years ago the National Association of Governors and Managers, the forerunner of NASG, was set up to support and advise individual school governors, through a magazine and a series of publications and research papers. But in 1994 when the Government claimed that governors were not consulted because they had "no national voice" campaigners created the NGC, whose members were regional governor associations, not individuals.

"There must have been a feeling that the NGC was formed because there was something the NAGM wasn't doing. This created a lot of personal difficulties. Those anxieties had to be overcome with persuading and convincing before we could move towards merger," says Mr Adams. "But the future is in combining our strengths. I hope we can blaze a trail for the rest of education. Is the teaching profession really best served by having six different unions?"

And it is the future that excites Ms McIntyre. "Ever since I joined NGC three years ago, I thought that for financial and sustainability reasons a merger would be the way forward. This is a huge step.

"Now I am looking forward to working on the detailed business plan for the coming year and on the outline plans for the next three years."

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