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Midwife can ease birth pain

When a new school is set up, its temporary governing body needs a lot of support, says David Marriott.

BACK in the Seventies, I moved several hundred miles to take up a teaching post in a brand-new comprehensive.

The chance to help set up a school from scratch, as part of a team of enthusiastic staff with no "baggage" was a dream come true. I joined before we moved to our new site - when the school was little more than a couple of huts on another school's playground. I didn't appreciate at the time all the preliminary work that must have been done for the school to reach even this stage. In those days, the governing body wouldn't have had much of a role in that process. Things are different now.

A temporary governing body faces a huge task in a short space of time. Its decisions have a much longer-lasting effect on the development of the new school than its temporary nature might suggest. And every new community school starts with just one person - the local councillor.

It's up to him or her to recruit and gather the core of the temporary governing body. From there, appeals go out across the county - and beyond, if necessary - for parent and teacher governors. Further categories of governors are added, depending on the instrument of government, which sets out the numbers and types of governors required.

And, of course, a clerk needs to be found as soon as possible. An effective clerk is one of the essentials in ensuring that the temporary body does its job well.

It needs a place to meet (often someone's house), and a chair and vice-chair as soon as possible. It has to make urgent decisions about the ethos of the new school, school name and pupil dress code.

A representative core of the temporary body recruits and appoints the first head - probably the single most important thing any governing body does. If they get it wrong, they can cause years of grief and problems. Fortunately, a brand-new school is a tempting prospect for any head. Whereas most small primary headships attract a limited number of applicants, there was a wide field from which to select the heads of the two new primaries in my county, Wiltshire.

The appoining group may be very "green" and will need lots of advice and support very early on. Practical issues to be addressed include where will the head be based? How will shehe get access to a telephone and computer? Who pays for those? What sort of budget will be available? How much say will the head and governors have in the building programme?

In Wiltshire, we have set up a small team of officers to review and improve the process of guiding the birth and early development of any new school. We draw on the experience of heads, governors and teachers who have recently been through the process. We want to know what is the best sequence and timescale. How can we make the best use of limited resources in supporting the school's development? How "hands on" should we be?

Helping the temporary body to be self-sufficient is not easy but must be achieved if the school is to get off to a flying start. We encourage governors to access our training programme, including whole-body training, at a time and place to suit them. Much of the training will focus on the roles and responsibilities of the head and the governors, but will also reflect the training needs identified by governors themselves.

A link adviser is identified very early on and quickly builds an effective working relationship with governors and the newly-appointed head. If all goes well, the schools will open on time and be ready to start work from day one. The temporary body then ceases to exist and a new board is set up, drawing in members of the teaching and non-teaching staff and parents of pupils.

Some of the original team may be reappointed or re-elected - some degree of continuity is clearly desirable. But for those left over, their pride in seeing the school open is balanced by sadness after months of often hectic work in less than ideal conditions. Those of us in the LEA who have supported the process have learned our lessons from experience and will make sure the next one goes even more smoothly.

David Marriott is head of governor support at Wiltshire County Council, and author of 'The Effective School Governor', published by Network Educational Press Ltd, price: pound;15.95

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