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Prepared for partnership

Karen Thornton reports on what's new on the learning front

THE flesh is beginning to appear on the bones of the Government's plans for improving governor training.

The headteachers' leadership college may become involved in training for chairs of governing bodies. Financial support may be offered to governors through individual learning accounts.

A top priority is developing a nationally-agreed core curriculum for induction courses by September. Government officials also want governors to be able to evaluate how well they are doing their job.

But it could be three years before a national accreditation scheme for governor-trainers is in place to guarantee the quality of courses undertaken by England's 300,000 governors. Ministers have previously expressed concern about the patchy quality of some training.

The provisional Department for Education and Employment proposals have yet to be firmed up for ministers' approval.

Kim Garcia, chairman of Co-ordinators of Governor Services (COGS), which represents mainly education authorities, is concerned about the long time- scale envisaged for trainer accreditation. He feels a fast-track system for acknowledging existing good practice, and for working with new training providers is needed.

The draft suggests the department could begin by mapping existing governor qualifications, and setting up a working group to look at accreditation issues, including trainer accreditation. Another proposal is for an association of governor-trainers, funded by membership fees, which would include anyone training governors, which would set minimum standards.

Both COGs and the governor associations support the heads' leadership college getting involved in governor training, although they point out that governors should have an input into the work of the college.

John Adams, of the National Association of Governors and Managers, said: "We spend a lot of time talking about training governors to do the job. There is also a need to include in teachers' training and development how they should interact with school governors. It's touched on, briefly, in headteacher training, but there is a real need for teachers to see governors as partners rather than just an irritant."

The National Governors' Council, too, has been lobbying hard for more joint training. Chairwoman Chris Gale also believes individual learning accunts might provide an easier way into training for less confident governors than undertaking highly structured and accredited programmes such as the Business and Technology Education Council's advanced certificate in school governance developed by Essex council and Lloyds TSB. The DFEE is considering endorsing the BTEC, as a first step to developing a list of approved or quality-assured courses.

A paper produced by Michele Robbins and Nargis Rashid, respectively of Oxfordshire and Birmingham governor services, outlines what could be included in a nationally-agreed induction course for new governors.

Four two-hour sessions or two half-day sessions would be needed to cover the four proposed components: exploring the legislation affecting governors; governors' strategic role; accountability issues; and governing bodies as critical friends of schools.

Ms Robbins is concerned that the September start mooted in the DFEE paper may prove unrealistic, as governor services and trainers gear up to provide help and support on the introduction of the new performance-management system for teachers later this term and next.

The DFEE paper also gives strong backing to whole governor-body training and self-evaluation, saying this has proved effective in getting governing bodies to work together as a team.

It says a governors index, being developed by independent trainer Catherine Burt, could be used for self-review. But Ms Burt believes virtually all governing bodies will need the help of a facilitator to make effective use of the index, which is about to be piloted.

The index focuses on raising standards by examining how in practice governing bodies are trying to carry out their leadership and management roles. Effectiveness is measured against 20 criteria, grouped into four key areas known as the "4Ps" - strategic planning, ensuring progress, proactive partnership and effective practices.

"Initially it's about trying to give a picture of the strengths and weaknesses of governors with a view to how they can improve and ask themselves if they make a difference," said Ms Burt.

"But it's also about trying to move beyond local to national training, and towards national standards for interpreting and assessing the role of governors. If you do get national acceptance of a framework of criteria, it could lead to nationally agreed training materials."

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