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Planning to improve

"Accountants should not be chairs of finance," advises Stella Charman, a parent governor of Liphook Infant School, Hampshire, for two years. She spent 14 years as a health service manager before working as an independent management consultant.

"I wanted to use my skills and experience to benefit my children's education, " she says. "A governor's pressures are greater than I expected. Spending early evenings on governor duties prevents me spending time with my children. "

The chair of finance job was "thrust" on her early in her governorship. Her committee, which comprises the chairs of personnel, curriculum, the headteacher, school administrative officer and herself recently adopted a new strategy. "We do not take the accountant's approach examining detailed spreadsheets. We look at broader issues, annual priority setting, budget controls. We feel constrained by local management regulations. It would be nice to be able to manage over a five-year cycle."

Liphook governing body has a monthly budget monitoring meeting. Stella, the headteacher and the admin officer can take decisions to spend up to Pounds 3,000 without reference to the governing body. "This enables us to be more responsive. Long-term strategic planning follows the school development plan.

"As we have little financial leeway, we decided to link spending decisions to raising standards rather than being driven by the school's physical conditions. In the past we focused on redecoration, carpets and toilets. Now we are moving towards financing curriculum needs such as revising a new reading scheme to encourage better test results for boys, and supporting able children."

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