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Governor motivation is the key to reform, argues John Adams

The Government is to be congratulated on its new consultation document on the role and responsibilities of school governors. Not, perhaps, on some of the details, but at least on the fact of consultation.

Members of the National Association of Governors and Managers have been contacting NAGM officers in greater and greater numbers in the past two or three years to protest about the increasing (and inappropriate) responsibilities that have come the way of the school governing body.

Evidence received from surveys, our helpline, local governor groups, a voluminous post bag and numerous governor conferences around the country have all produced a similar message - that the time is right for a fundamental review of the position of school governing bodies. This is the type of review that was lacking in the Commons' education select committee report 1999.

At this early stage it is possible to offer a few observations. A number of the proposals contained in the consultation document are almost exact repetitions of the arguments put by NAGM. For example, in relation to responsibilities for safety and risk assessments (which are more properly the preserve of professionals) or for "ring-fencing" of governor expenses (a long-running NAGM campaign).

However, some of the other proposals will probably prove very controversial and attract critical comment from governors.

These include proposals to reduce the size of governing bodies (having only just increased them); to remove the governing body of a "failing" school and replace it with "professionals"; and the suggestion that governors should not get involved in the appointment of staff below the leadership group.

Most disappointingly, the ocument fails to spell out a sound rationale for the changes proposed. The reduction in the size of governing bodies, for example, is in part justified by difficulties in recruitment.

Surely the sensible approach is to address the reasons why governors are not coming forward, rather than cutting the size down to fit the number we happen to have.

There is also a lack of realism in the proposal to replace a governing body of a failing school with an interim five-person team. Assuming such people can be found, the question remains as to what will happen when the team has done its work. Specifically, who will come forward for the reinstated governing body after the five withdraw?

Similarly, many governors would feel that one of the most important tasks they undertake is in relation to staff appointments. Headteachers may, for perfectly understandable reasons, make hasty short-term decisions in this area which the school will come to regret. Heads come and go but the school continues.

There are many other proposals in the document worthy of study. What is lacking, however, is more fundamental. If we are to reconfigure governing body responsibilities we need some underlying principle upon which to base the change. The best place to start would surely be with the motivation of governors.

What brings people forward in the first place as volunteers to take on this role? If we could align the responsibilities with those motivations we could address a number of issues simultaneously, most pressingly, the number of vacancies on school governing bodies.

Unless we take a more fundamental view of the issue we will be back here again in another couple of years with another set of proposed changes.

Professor John Adams is chairman of NAGM

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