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Networking for ethnic recruits

Lindy Hardcastle looks at how one support group has boosted the number of black and Asian governors. To encourage and support ethnic minority governors, the Asian, African and Caribbean Governors' Network was established in Leicestershire by the local Racial Equality Council during the last governor recruitment campaign in 1992.

Leicester has a large Asian population and a smaller but significant AfricanCaribbean one and they were under-represented on governing bodies. The campaign succeeded in attracting more governors, but, although they could offer schools their knowledge of pupils' cultural and religious background, they needed support and training to build their confidence and skills.

Kamljit Obhi, of the Racial Equality Council, is a guiding force behind the network. She said: "I became a governor myself to set an example and find out what difficulties people might encounter. I sat through my first governors' meeting in stunned silence."

This is, unfortunately, a common experience for many new governors, but particular difficulties exist for those whose first language is not English. In the Asian community, there is no tradition of women taking a lead in community affairs.

Daxa Parmar was a recruit in 1992. She is now vice-chair of governors at her local primary school and chair of the network. She said: "My first governors' meeting was really frightening. I was very much aware not just of being in a minority as an Asian, but in particular being one of only two women governors - the other was the elected teacher."

The REC produced information sheets for new governors and held training sessions and meetings so they could share their experiences. The REC has continued to recruit governors through leaflets, posters and contacts with community groups, and has used the local media to raise the profile of the network, which has now been handed over to a committee of members.

The best recruiting agents are established governors taking part in the life of the school. With this in mind, governors invited to the launch of the network's 1996 recruitment campaign this week were asked to "bring a friend" - but one who was not yet a governor.

Many schools are aware of the need for the governing body to reflect the intake of the school, and ask the network for advice on how to recruit black governors.

The network is looking at ways of tackling the issues that face black children and encouraging schools to draw up and implement anti-racist policies. Jean Williams, an Afro-Caribbean governor, is concerned about the disproportionate numbers of black children excluded from school and evidence of under-achievement by Afro-Caribbean boys. She believes that the best way parents and the community can help to combat these problems is by joining the governing bodies of their schools.

Kamljit Obhi wants to avoid focusing too narrowly on racial issues. "We are concerned about equal opportunities as a whole, so we are looking at a whole range of issues, gender and disability as well as race, and that means for staff and governors as well as pupils."

The network wants to be seen as a support rather than pressure group and it has worked closely with governor support and training agencies. Leicestershire has provided some funding, encouragement and help with training courses. Network members serve on the executive and consultative groups of the Association of Leicestershire Governors and on the local Education Forum - an advisory panel of headteachers, county councillors, governors and local authority officers.

But is there a danger of Asian and Afro-Caribbean governors being marginalised on governing bodies, consulted about religious and cultural issues and excluded from decisions about the budget, staffing and policies? "Only if they allow themselves to be," says Daxa Parmar, who has come a long way since her first meeting four years ago.

* Kamljit Obhi can be contacted at the Leicester Racial Equality Council, 4th Floor, 13-15 Belvoir St, Leicester LE1 6LS.

Best candidate guide

This autumn, thousands of school governors are coming to the end of their four-year term of office and recruitment to fill the estimated 60,000 vacancies is an urgent task. Terry Mahoney offers his 15-point plan: 1. The governing body should set up, or elect, a small recruitment panel to seek out and interview candidates and put forward names for co-option or appointment.

2. Clerks must check the dates of appointment, election or co-option of all governors. The clerk or governors' group should find out whether the relevant governors wish to be re-appointed (or will seek re-election or co-option). Be tactful and explain that you are assessing the potential volume of new recruits.

3. Scrutinise the attendance record of governors. Assess levels of commitment to the school. Is this the time to get rid of dead wood? Local authority and foundation governors can be removed by the appointing body "for good reason" at any time. Today's governorship is no sinecure; you cannot afford to carry passengers. Tactfully encourage such governors to use their talents elsewhere, or write to the appointing body requesting non-reappointment, giving your reasons.

4. List the skills and experience of continuing governors and consider how new people can complement them.

5. Build your team, looking for people who will share your vision.

6. Does your governing body represent the community served by the school? Is there a balance of the sexes, representation from minority ethnic groups, a spread of age groups, representation for non-teaching staff, and a good mix of occupational groups?

7. Devise a creative recruitment campaign. Incorporate your governor's job description into a wanted poster.

8. Place adverts in shop windows and on notice boards in the playground.

9. Involve local newspapers, especially if you have an interesting angle like the retirement of a long-standing governor.

10. Use your newsletter, annual report and any communication with the school's ambassadors: employees, past parents and relatives, school suppliers, local playgroups, community users, and firms that have employment or work experience links with the school.

11. Be honest about the workload and commitment needed. This may weed out any whose motives for volunteering may not be as pure as yours.

12. Talent spot. Is there a keen school helper who would be flattered by a personal approach? The local authority or foundation may be pleased to receive nominations from you - it saves them doing their own recruiting.

13. If you will need to hold a parent-governor election, give advice. It can be daunting to stand for election, compose a biography for public scrutiny and suffer the potential ignominy of non-election.

14. Invite any potential recruit to governors' meetings so they can judge their own suitability and compatibility.

15. Plug into national and local recruitment campaigns. Videos and leaflets can add gloss to your efforts.

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