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At least equal to heads

Jill Parkin asks Jane Phillips of the National Association of School Governors what's behind their new manifesto

Why do governors need a manifesto? Is it because you feel undervalued or that there's a lack of definition to your role?

There's a widespread lack of understanding of our proper role - and some dissension as to what that role should be - plus some fuzzy boundaries.

We'd like a sensible discussion about governance and its place in the system.

Also, there is a feeling that although we have ultimate responsibility, we are being sidelined from decision-making. The Government's five-year schools strategy asks more of us without recognising our position or asking our views.

Some will be surprised by the claim that governors have a status "at the very least equal to headteachers". If you are the head's line manager, can't you expect as much flak as recognition from the Government?

Couldn't agree more. We are the line managers of heads, but in national decision-making we are junior partners - and sometimes not even partners at all.

As line managers of heads we expect coherent support to do the job well.

If, with support, we don't do it well, we should expect flak. Governing bodies have certainly already had it from the Office for Standards in Education and from employment tribunals.

What might the support you're asking for mean for an individual governor?

A package of training opportunities and development initiatives which will encompass all the needs of governors. Look at money that has been poured into the National College for School Leadership. We don't begrudge that, but governors need as much, if not more. There are 25,000 heads and 350,000 governors.

What kind of recognition do you want and how can your image among teachers and parents be changed?

We want recognition at all levels that we are equal partners with the paid professionals. I don't think parents have an image of us. And to most staff, we are part of the furniture. An indication of status might be how heads talk about their governing bodies to each other - that would be enlightening!

If you have training and increased professionalism, why not have payment? Councillors are now paid, for example, and wouldn't that give you the standing you want?

Payment is at the heart of the dichotomy between the "stakeholder" model of governance and the "other professional" model. If you go for paying the former, you must pay all of them - otherwise some are more equal than others. The Treasury wouldn't stand for it.

There are also issues of independence and the moral high ground. We can say categorically that governors have no pecuniary interest at all, so speak with an independent voice and have as their prime motive the wellbeing of pupils. That can be pretty powerful. If we go for the "other professional" model, governors will be headhunted and paid.

Jane Phillips is chair of the National Association of School Governors


The manifesto looks at three main areas: status, responsibility and support. These are its main demands.

* Treat governors as partners whose status is at the very least equal to that of heads in both national and local decision-making.

* More governor input into national and local decision-making to reflect their role as heads' line managers.

* Government rhetoric should recognise that it is governing bodies (which include heads) not heads alone who carry legal responsibility for strategic decision-making in schools.

* Most governors do not wish to be responsible for all pay decisions; promotion and disciplining staff; or setting pupil targets. These areas should be reviewed.

* Governors should be able to fund support and training "without feeling guilt often engendered by the head or by the governing body itself."

* Earmark funds for governor support and development so governors are treated as favourably as teachers.

* Governor training should be brought within the new remit of the National College for School Leadership and there should be governor representation on the board of the NCSL.

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