Parties fail to find new governors

A national recruitment drive for around 60,000 new governors to replace those who resigned last summer, has been largely successful. But while none of the national governor associations report a serious recruitment crisis, shortfalls remain in some parts of the country. Vacancies for local authority-nominated governors are proving especially difficult to fill.

Birmingham, with just over 5,000 governor posts in local authority schools, has around 800 vacancies. Half of these are long-standing openings for local authority-nominated governors, which are allocated to the three main political parties on the basis of their strength on the Labour-held city council.

John Tyrrell, secretary of the Education Labour Group on Birmingham City Council, says too many posts have to be filled in the country's largest LEA. The Labour National Executive Committee decision to suspend four constituen cy parties - 12 wards in all - following allegations of vote rigging in 1995 has also made it difficult to get things done, he claims. But some ward branches of the party are more active than others when it comes to looking for volunteers to stand as school governors.

Schools Minister Robin Squire suggests the Government may now consider reducing the numbers of local authority governors. "If large numbers of governors are not being appointed we would want to revisit the delicate relationship between the numbers appointed by local authorities and others." He says local authorities should be more willing to nominate non-political governors.

Pat Petch, chair of the National Governors' Council, says elected council members in all parts of the country see the appointment of school governors as a low priority. "A lot of governors take that issue very seriously because they see failure to appoint as failure to support schools," she says. And when political parties do nominate governors, they often have other commitments preventing them from turning up regularly at meetings.

These difficulties have prompted calls for a review of the way LEAs nominate their representatives on school governing bodies. Jane Martin, chair of the training network, Action for Governors' Information and Training (AGIT), suggests authorities might put forward people with some sort of relevant expertise.

"That would perhaps be more useful and would cement the relationship between the governing body and the authority better than the party political nominations we have at the moment," she says.

Jane Martin also points out that co-opted governors, rather than representing the local business community, are often former parent governors co-opted back on because the governing body knows it can work with them. "One of the challenges to governing bodies is that the representative democracy invested in them does not work as efficiently and effectively as it might because some of these positions are either not filled at all - or are not filled by people who truly represent different stakeholders," she says.

The Government launched its recruitment campaign for new governors after a DFEE-funded survey found that 100,000 school governors - more than a third of the total - were due to reach the end of their terms of office last year.

The survey, carried out by AGIT and the National Association of Governors and Managers found that 18 per cent of governors, many in voluntary-aided schools, will come to the end of their four-year terms this year. A further 13 per cent will be up for re-appointment in 1998, when governing bodies in inner London are to be reconstituted.

Most of the 80 local authorities surveyed believed that governor resignations had increased over the two previous years. Most said these resignations were for family and work reasons rather than governors' responsibilities. The survey also found wide variations between authorities - vacancy rates ranged from less than 2 per cent to nearly 20 per cent.

Vacancies are often harder to fill in inner city schools."That may well have to do with the ability of people who are out of work and living in economically deprived areas to take on that kind of role," says Nargis Rashid, governor training co-ordinator for Birmingham City Council.

It is not, she adds, a question of ability to serve as governors. "It's about giving up time to be governors when they could be trying to find employment and about getting to schools by bus at night when governing bodies meet."

But in some large cities, concerted efforts by councils, local governor associations and schools have produced results. In Sheffield, where a crisis had been expected, just 153 of the city's 2,400 governor posts remained unfilled at the beginning of this term. Sandra Tomlinson, chair of the Sheffield Association of School Governing Bodies, says that despite horror stories about governors' responsibilities, many decided to stay on when their terms came up for renewal.

"The thing about being a governor is that you become attached to the school you work with, so governors have not walked away from their schools.They've hung on in there and that's very cheering."

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