Nobody does it better

Karen Thornton & Abi Newman

The chief inspector had some good news for trainers at their annual conference. Karen Thornton and Abi Newman report

Everyone likes to be praised, and no one does it better than Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.

Mike Tomlinson, the OFSTED boss, had his audience eating out of his hand after telling governor trainers they provided the best education authority service in the land.

But Mr Tomlinson put some hard questions to them about the impact their services were having on governor input in schools, while admitting that he did not have the answers.

The chief inspector compared the high ratings for governor support services with the less flattering assessments of governing bodies' effectiveness (see table, right).

"You are almost universally regarded as an effective service but we have a significant proportion of governing bodies which are not effective," he said.

"That raises questions about the effectiveness of support - what's causing that gap? I don't know and I'm not raising it as a criticism. If the service is judged as good as it is, then what's happening between there and the individual governing body?" Mr Tomlinson also backed schools in challenging circumstances taking on more associate governors to plug gaps in experience and knowledge on governing boards.

People who worked in a school's area but did not live there could give their expertise during the day, rather than having to attend the usual evening meetings, he suggested.

Governors can already appoint additional members to committees, and give them voting rights if they want. The Department for Education and Skills is proposing allowing such members to sit on full board meetings, albeit without voting rights.

Mr Tomlinson was not the only speaker to challenge delegates at the National Co-ordinators of Governor Services annual conference.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said there was a real danger that heads will become more and more clued up on issues relating to leadership and governing bodies will get left behind.

He also said ministers were unlikely to backtrack on key issues such as deregulation, size and constitution included in the current consultation document.

Governors' main responsibility must be helping headteachers manage a work-life balance in "what is becoming a highly over-prescriptive agenda".

Meanwhile, delegates were critical of the Government's latest proposals for shaking up school governance. Complaints of time-wasting and patchy consultation were raised, as were fears about the enhancement of headteachers' powers, particularly over hiring and firing. Plans to reduce governing bodies by giving schools limited discretion over how their boards are made up were also attacked. Hilary Price, of Torbay education authority, Devon, said: "I have yet to hear a governing body clamouring for a new constitution. How much time is going to be wasted going through the 10 models and deciding what kind to have?" See www.dfes.gov.uk for The Way Forward consultation document.

LATEST OFSTED FINDINGS

Primary:

* Fulfilling statutory responsibilities: 86 per cent satisfactory or better, 14 per cent unsatisfactory.

* Shaping the direction of the school: 79 per cent satisfactory or better, 21 per cent unsatisfactory.

* Governors' understanding of the school's strengths and weaknesses: 83 per cent satisfactory or better, 17 per cent unsatisfactory.

Secondary:

* Fulfilling statutory responsibilities: 67 per cent satisfactory or better, 33 per cent unsatisfactory.

* Shaping the direction of the school: 86 per cent satisfactory or better, 14 per cent unsatisfactory.

* Governors' understanding of the school's strengths and weaknesses: 87 per cent satisfactory or better, 13 per cent unsatisfactory.

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Karen Thornton & Abi Newman

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