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New leader will go back to grassroots

The incoming chair of the National Governors Council wants the body to reconnect with ordinary governors. Laurence Pollock reports

IT'S been an innovative term for the National Governors Council. First, it wheeled out a shiny new structure, its first-ever chief executive and modern headquarters. Now there is also a new driver behind the wheel. Neil Davies was elected as the NGC's chair four weeks ago.

Under the new structure, the electors are the executive members themselves and the post was contested. The relatively inexperienced `Mr Davies beat the more seasoned Susan Marsh who had seen long service as treasurer.

But who is the man in the driving seat, and can he handle the course? In his forties, he has been a governor for just six years and only joined the NGC's executive last year.

The council's previous leader, Chris Gale, sees two sides to him.

"Neil is a lovely, charming man but he is also quite tough. He won't stand for any nonsense but he is also very kindly. He is young and energetic, done very well in business and retired quite early."

She thinks the fact that he is a relatively new governor could be a plus as he tries to take the council in a fresh direction. "He is very keen and willing to learn - and he has got a lot to learn. He has no baggage as he has not been a governor for very long. Neil has everything going for him. The executive have voted him in and they have to stand behind him and support him," she said.

Neil Davies has two children, a daughter aged 13 at City of Portsmouth girls' school and a son, nine, at St Jude's Church of England primary. He is a governor at both.

Beverley Scammell, acting headteacher of City of Portsmouth, said her star governor was "knowledgeable and down to earth". "He cares for education passionately and for pupils to do their best. Neil works hard for the governing body and for the local authority - we are very proud of him."

But what does Neil Davies have to say for himself? He is clearly a man of few words who would prefer a similar self-restraint in others. He says he wants to "beaver away in the background". And he is clearly not comfortable with the glare of publicity. On discovering that The TES was preparing a profile he commented: "It doesn't please me too much. People will find out about me anyway. I do not want a photo taken."

Nevertheless, he is prepared to talk about his philosophy and what has motivated him to take on the post. He grew up in south Wales and at one time considered teacher training. He moved to the south coast as an adult to run a successful business in retail.

As a governor, Mr Davies says he wants to "make a difference". He recognises the difficulties the NGC has gone through in the past year, but stresses: "We have now moved on." He is, not surprisingly, motivated by his children's experience of education: "I want them to be educated with professional input from all the agencies, to the highest standard they can achieve. But I do not want them to feel under pressure. For me education is a big passion - you learn until you die."

His vision is to raise awareness of the council among ordinary governors who may not even realise that they are part of a national body. He would also like to see more use of the NGC's successful "trigger pack" for new governors.

Jean McEntire, NGC's chief executive, confirms the new chair's instinct to reach out to people: "Neil is in the office a lot and when he is here he gets stuck in, answering the phones, for instance.

"He wants to speak to the membership as much as possible. He feels that though we speak to the Government a lot we are not so good at letting the membership know what we are talking about."

She describes a chair who wants to achieve a "step change" in the NGC's ability to reach its members, represent their opinions and tap into professional expertise among individual governors. She also reports a steely determination.

Organisations that need a break with the past talk hopefully about an absence of baggage. The NGC's new chair (like the chief executive) has arrived with little weighing him down and is set to go places. Many in the NGC will be happy to go with him - but they have to be sure that years of accumulated wisdom will not be thrown out with the old filing cabinets.

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