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Mean to mention the wine?

As college employers press for their governors to be paid, Victoria Neumark ponders the high costs of heading a school governing body. I have just finished a brief stint as acting chair of governors. I knew it would take up masses of time, I guessed it would cause me anguish, but I didn't realise it would be expensive too.

First, there is the time. Time spent reading easily twice as much paper as an ordinary governor. Time on the phone talking to the various arms of the local education authorities.

Time trying to sort out routine matters with the headteachers (ours is a joint governing body of an infant and junior school). Time being buttonholed by parents. Time on the phone to other governors on various sub-committees.

And, of course, all the time I didn't spend but should have, going to all the sub-committee meetings. and then there are the letters.

At least I have a word processor. Unlike my predecessor, who cannot type, it will not cost me all day to deal with the correspondence. But it will still cost me lots of stamps. And photocopying fees. And more time, to show the more important of the letters to the relevant head or governor. And more phone calls, to talk over the letters sent and received with the various arms of the authority and the relevant governors and back to the word processor, to write the next letter in response to the letters and phone calls.

So when an officer of the local education authority explains over the phone that this is an unofficial reply to one of my letters and that if I want an official one I shall have to wait as she is so busy, I feel a little curt. Yes, I do want a written reply, thanks very much. And actually, I'm not paid for this and I've had to find the time.

Plus of course there is the worry. God knows - and, it seems, some members of the LEA have a shrewd idea - what is the right thing to do when a child is so terribly disruptive that he or she has to be excluded. With enormous pains and worry we have recently come to the conclusion. But it is on my conscience, none the less, and I suppose it should be.

And we have a continuing saga at one of our schools over a suspended member of staff and the ensuing financial loss which has a constant knock-on effect on the running of the school - and a much worse one on morale.

And numbers are rising past what is educationally possible, let alone desirable. And many short-life tenants have suddenly appeared in the area. And, in real terms, the budget has been cut by about 10 per cent over four years. But that's just the worry.

Back at the piggybank, it seems mean to mention the bottle of wine without which we could not have cracked on through the several hours spent working out a selection process for a new headteacher. Even meaner to list the coffee, tea, milk, sugar and biscuits which any meeting of adults seems to demand. Yet all of this, even to washing up the wretched cups, is time spent on governing business without which I would be doing something else. For example, looking after the children, who, as it happens, don't have anyone else around.

Most importantly, there is childcare. A single parent, I am fast running out of favours. The going rate is Pounds 2.50 an hour and none of our meeting lasts more than three hours. Who could possibly afford that, say, once every three weeks?

A few questions, then. When the Government speaks about parent power, who are the parents who, without pay, training (of any professional kind, at least) support or real status are going to take on this onerous set of tasks? They will surely be the very parents - financially secure, educated, self-confident and connected - who are running things anyway. They will, I suggest, most often be male and without primary responsibility for childcare.

They will be able to come up with lots of ideas in meetings and be able to delegate the actual implementation - the letters, the phone calls, the school visits - to some other person who, just a guess of course, will probably be female.

Is education important to this country? Does it not matter that all our successful competitors spend enormous amounts more on it than us?

And if it is important, how come its entire cadre of middle managers - heads of governing bodies - are unpaid? Could you run the Army like that? Or the NHS? Or ICI?

Call me stupid if you like, but I really can't understand how you can run an entire education system as if it were a Women's Institute jumble sale while, at the same time, declaring a ruthless and realistic adherence to the modern market economy. Meantime, I'm just popping off to push a few envelopes through doors. It'll save on the postage.

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