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If you must tamper don't just tinker

Have ministers missed the point on the issue of how to analyse governors' roles? Karen Thornton reports

Ministers and officials at the Department for Education and Employment must be feeling a bit frustrated.

Governors write to them in droves saying their responsibilities and workload are too heavy a burden for mere volunteers to carry. Yet when the current DFEE consultation suggests removing some of these responsibilities - for example, personnel and staff recruitment - governors rush to defend their territory.

So what went wrong? Two of the estimated 6,000 responses to the consultations put their finger on the problem. The DFEE thought it had the answers to reducing workload by tinkering with a few roles and responsibilities. But it was the questions it had wrong.

For all the Government's focus on governors' strategic role, it has failed to take a strategic approach to its own consultations on their responsibilities. "The consultation focuses on particular governor responsibilities without a convincing rationale overall," complains the National Association of Governors and Managers' response.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, notes: "The Government appears to be increasingly confused about the role it wishes governing bodies to assume."

He believes the review has faled to address the "deficiencies" of the current system and the implications for governors as the role of education authorities declines. He also feels a genuine strategic review would ask "whether governing bodies in practice serve any useful purpose or are an effective or appropriate vehicle for raising and maintaining standards in schools".

Governors, hopefully, are somewhat more upbeat about their usefulness than Mr de Gruchy. But they know they don't operate in a vacuum. They must relate with headteachers, other school staff (including non-teachers), education authorities and the Government.

As the NAGM consultation notes, handing some governors' responsibilities - such as staff dismissals and grievances - over to headteachers merely adds to heads' already excessive workload. What is needed is the kind of system-wide analysis favoured by the Office for Standards in Education and the Audit Commission in their recent report on LEA support for school improvement (TES, February 16).

Once you know what educational outcomes you want for young people, what opportunities you want schools to provide, and what value you put on parental and community involvement, you can shape governors', headteachers' and LEAs' roles to fit. And surely, after the past four years of "education, education, education" that's something the Government does know about?

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