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New year, new ball game

April the National Governors' Council will have to manage without Government cash. Karen Thornton reports on how it plans to survive

The National Governors' Council faces a less certain future from April when the Department for Education and Skills - which has put more than a million pounds into the organisation since it was set up a decade ago - ends its financial support.

Ministers say the investment was to help kick-start the organisation, and have been steadily reducing the NGC's grant over the past three years.

Council members believe the Government should still be funding it because of its important role in consulting governors about national policy initiatives. But they have lost the argument with ministers.

"If anyone has won the lottery, can you let me know," Neil Davies, NGC chairman, told delegates at its annual general meeting. He was only half joking. A glance at the NGC's accounts for 20023 show why. A carry-forward into the current year of pound;150,348 makes for a healthy-looking bank balance. But around pound;89,000 has to be kept in reserves to cover up to six months running costs.

And last year, the council spent more than it earned - pound;186,822, compared to a total income of pound;169,677.

This year's spending has been set at more than pound;200,000 (including a final pound;38,500 from the DfES). The council was launched in October 1994 with the aim of becoming the national voice for governors. It helps set up new governor associations, responds to Government consultations, lobbies on policy issues of concern to governors, and is represented on a range of bodies from the education funding strategy group to the General Teaching Council for England.

The main differences between it and the longer-established National Association of Governors and Managers are to do with membership and policy work. NAGM has around 45,000 governor members but also numbers governor training officers and consultants, academics and businesses among its supporters. It publishes regular research papers and newsletters and sees its key aim as helping governors "play their part in promoting the best possible education for all pupils in schools". It is entirely self-funding.

The NGC plans to hire a projects officer to support chief executive Jean McEntire in the search for additional income. To replace the core funding from the DfES, it is bidding for project-based work from government departments and other organisations as well as looking at deals with businesses to provide member services.

In one such venture it is surveying governors about pupil nutrition on behalf of the Food Standards Agency, which is campaigning to improve awareness of good nutrition. The council's website carries advice from the FSA.

The organisation is also working with a company, already endorsed by the National Association of Head Teachers, on a project to develop governor-related liability insurance.

The chair and chief executive are confident that the organisation will remain solvent and active. It has worked hard to develop regional support structures for its member associations, currently active in two-thirds of English education authorities, and representing more than 150,000 governors.

But Ms McEntire has warned council members that they are now in a "very different world".

She said: "Like many other small charities and businesses at the beginning of the financial year, we will not know exactly how much money we will have or where it will come from. A lot of it you earn on your feet as opportunities arise."

The new financial realities facing the NGC means its members can also expect to pay more in future for the services they receive.

Membership fees doubled last year from pound;2 to pound;4 per school, and have been held steady in the current year. But fees still represent less than a quarter of the NGC's total income.

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