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Line them up in the wings

Karen Thornton reports on novel approaches to solving vacancy problems

IF more than one in eight teaching posts was vacant, there would be even more of an uproar about the current funding crisis.

However, governors lack public profile, and the fact that vacancy rates on school boards have worsened significantly in less than 10 months will not make the headlines.

And nor should they, according to a recently published report, that argues that schools, education and church authorities are doing a good job when it comes to recruiting and retaining governors.

Do The Right Thing!, compiled by Ten, the local government information network, updates its own figures from 10 months ago that were published in Governance Matters (see TES, September 13, 2002).

Overall vacancies have risen from 11 to 12 per cent, with the hardest-to-fill category remaining co-opted governors, followed by local education authority appointments and parents. Around 19 per cent of the estimated 58,200 places for co-optees in English maintained schools are empty, up from 17 per cent.

Perhaps most interestingly for those trying to recruit any kind of governor, the Ten report lists a range of techniques and their success rates, as judged by LEAs (see table right).

The personal touch seems to work. Almost all LEAs enlisted existing governors and word of mouth to find new recruits.

The School Governors' One Stop Shop, the government-funded charity which recruits and places business people as co-opted or non-political LEA governors, was also well-used and relatively successful. Headteachers, too, seem to be good at finding governors.

But notices in job centres and adverts on local radio stations seem to have little impact. With 43 per cent of LEAs using radio, the Ten report suggests they need to reconsider the cost-effectiveness of this strategy - especially given the low levels of spending on recruitment generally.

Metropolitan authorities are spending on average as little as pound;1.06 per governor on recruitment and retention; counties and unitaries are in the middle with pound;2.17, while London is investing pound;3.70 per governor.

And the report suggests some LEAs may be using money from school budgets, rather than their own, on recruitment.

Schools can do a lot to help themselves, though. The report cites the example of St Mark's C of E junior school in Southampton, which introduced a category of "governor-in-waiting" nearly 10 years ago when three parents stood for two governor vacancies.

Those in waiting attend board meetings, undertake training and attend external meetings such as the local governors' forum. When they take up their places - around 15 have done so, after between three months and two years in the wings - they can hit the ground running.

The idea has been taken up by the LEA and promoted to other schools in the city.

Simon Bird, author of the report, concludes that recruiting and retaining governors remains a "continual challenge for schools, LEAs and diocesan boards".

But talk of a crisis is exaggerated, he warns. "Schools, LEAs and diocesan boards have proved to be remarkably adept at recruiting and retaining governors," he says.

"Do The Right Thing!" by Simon Bird, published by the Department for Education and Skills and Ten, tel: 020 7554 2810

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