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Pay for new governors 'unjustified';Governors

Rescue plans for failing schools anger heads but get a mixed response from governors. Neil Sears reports

The Government's plan to pay the governors it is to impose on failing schools - while expecting others to continue to work for free - has been accepted by some governors but is vehemently opposed by others.

The schools standards Bill, currently going through Parliament, will allow the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to appoint additional governors and even to appoint the chair of governors in schools which fail their inspection by the Office for Standards in Education.

Many governors are expected to oppose the idea of some being paid while others are not. But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, is against the whole principle of paid governors.

"We see no justification at all for paying any governor," he says. "It's a wholly dangerous precedent. To be a governor of a school is a voluntary activity, it's not paid employment."

Ian Rule, secretary of the National Association of Governor Managers, fears most governors would say much the same.

"I don't think they would react very well if it happened," he says. "It's bound to put off those people who have been slaving away for years without pay."

Yet Ian Rule does acknowledge that the Secretary of State might have no choice: desperate to find talented people to help rescue a failing school, pay may be vital in tempting them into service.

Professor Eric Bolton begs to differ, and he speaks from experience: in 1995 Gillian Shephard, the former education secretary, asked Professor Bolton, former senior chief inspector of schools, to parachute in as a trouble-shooting governor at Stratford grant-maintained school in east London where a dispute between the governing body and the head had been making headlines - and court actions - for months. It was clearly going to be a tough job. But even though expenses were on offer, and even though his mission was ultimately successful, Professor Bolton didn't take a penny: he actually paid for the privilege of serving the community, forking out a pound;50 fine after he went through a red light on the way to his first meeting.

"I think we'd lose a lot if we paid governors," says Professor Bolton. "At the moment you do it out of some sense of conviction. The fear since 1988 has been that you wouldn't get the people - but it's been quite staggering how the majority of schools have sufficient numbers of governors: good people who put in a lot of work."

And Felicity Taylor of the Institute for School and College Governors says the arrival of paid governors would breed resentment among others.

"Paying governors would be very dangerous," she says. "Other governors would look sideways at somebody who's getting paid for doing basically the same. Also, it could put the paid governors in a difficult position: what would their liabilities be, and their contractual obligations?

"And the fact is that even if it was a good idea to pay governors, you could never afford to pay all 300,000 of them."

Pat Petch, chair of the National Governors' Council, accepts that truism, but feels that Government appointments of governors will be so rare that the new powers are entirely justified.

"Where things have gone drastically wrong you have to do something drastic to put them right," she says.

"But if a school is not delivering to children what we expect, steps have to be taken: if a governor is going to be brought in to take those steps, and they're expected to do much more work than the other governors, then it seems fair to pay them."

That's not necessary for non-trouble-shooting governors, she says - but those ordinary governors do increasingly comment on how much their voluntary duties are costing them.

Something should be done, suggests Pat Petch, to ensure they can be recompensed for loss of earnings, just as magistrates are.

Ian Rule adds that many governors would be happy if they weren't made to feel so bad about claiming expenses, which can be paid, but have to come out of the school budget.

And David Hart, unhappy though he is about pay for governors, agrees. Expenses should be available where necessary, he says - adding that there is a very strong case for governors to be guaranteed paid leave of absence from their employment when on school business.

What the Bill proposes

Under the new School Standards and Framework Bill, in schools found to be failing, the Secretary of State will be able to:

* appoint as many additional governors as he thinks fit

* appoint a chairman in place of the elected chair

* pay any governor so appointed as he sees fit

* restore delegated powers removed by the local authority

* order the local authority to close the school

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