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Performance of their lives

David Marriott finds the pieces are slowly coming together as govenors take part in their biggest management training exercise ever

I'VE just completed another week of training for governors. Two down, 11 to go!

On average, I'm running three sessions per week. Often the groups are the largest I've ever worked with in governor training - the numbers swelled by heads, desperate for something more useful than their two training days last term. The occasional smaller group is a refreshing change, though, and allows a more conversational approach.

Nationally, this is the biggest training campaign for governors. Designed by governor-trainers and the Department for Education and Employment, it is in three modules, each lasting two- and-a-half hours. The first, for any interested governor, gives the overview. The others are for the governors chosen to review the head's performance.

I'm a Department for Education and Employment-approved trainer, and I trained for a day in May. The materials we were given were hot off the press and already out of date. Updates followed. We were told we could edit them to suit our audiences. I spent at least a day and a half adapting each of the first two modules, aiming for a balance between the necessary "official" message and what my experience told me governors would accept and understand.

By far the best change has been the production of an excellent video (see page 31) to replace a role-play in the third module.

So far the audiences have been kind to me, though there have been lively debates about the value and detail of performance management. By and large, governors seem to accept the new system. They can see the potential benefits and, as always, intend to make sure it works for their school - but are alive to its current flaws and uncertainties.

For too long governors have struggled with the challenge of setting targets for heads and deputies wihout much clear advice and support from the DFEE. The external adviser's role is potentially a godsend, but there is real concern about their availability and quality. Will there really be enough to go round? Will they understand our local circumstances? What if they're not available when we want them and we can't set objectives by the end-of-December deadline? Dark rumours are circulating about a significant shortfall in the number of advisers.

For many governors, pay is a big issue, but the training is essentially about performance management, not performance-related pay. There isn't time to go into all that, but the audience can see there's a very fine line between performance management and pay decisions.

Every session gives rise to new questions - what about acting heads? What if no foundation governors will act as appointed governors? I don't always know the answer, but Shahid Bashir at the DFEE does! The Guidance for Governors document is an excellent resource and the governors' page on the DFEE website is a goldmine (see

But the national organisation of performance management is deliberately fragmented, with different organisations responsible for different parts of the jigsaw. It reminds me of secret service cells in which, for security, each agent can only ever know the identity of a maximum of two other agents. People training advisers don't know what the governor training looks like. Governor trainers don't have access to the training heads received. Lots of unofficial networking has to go on for any of us to make sense of the big picture.

There's still another 28 training sessions to go and I'm already looking forward to Christmas when it'll all be over - but that's what they said about the First World War, wasn't it?

David Marriott is head of governor support in Wiltshire, and author of 'The Effective School Governor' (1998).

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