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Question time is indispensable

Are governors doing enough to help raise standards? Michael Prestage (left) finds them reluctant to seek information about what goes on in the classroom while.

As concern focuses on the standards achieved by many inner city schools, the curriculum is emerging as the area of school management governors have the greatest difficulty grasping. And yet it is fundamental to their role in the effective running of a school, say school inspectors and leading organisations in the field of governor training.

The chief inspector of schools has criticised governors for not asking enough questions about standards and teaching methods. The need to tackle teaching and learning is firmly underlined in the new OFSTED inspection framework which makes governors more accountable for determining and meeting the aims of their school. The framework concentrates on what the school sets out to achieve and whether those ambitions are being realised.

Governors are responsible for ensuring high standards in the national curriculum and for pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. However, a survey of 21 schools by Sheffield University published earlier this year showed that "governors invariably delegate curriculum matters".

Martin Pounce, until recently, Action for Governors' Information and Training (AGIT)'s senior development officer, said: "I suspect training for governors on the curriculum is too much about turning governors into diluted professionals and more needs to be done about helping governors to perform their strategic role."

Governors should not be involved in day-to-day management issues that are the preserve of the professionals. Rather than know everything about the curriculum, they needed to understand how to play their part in planning, monitoring and holding the school accountable.

Many local education authorities have been found to devote insufficient governor training to monitoring the curriculum. "Governors think to themselves that teachers have the training and experience. They question whether they should tell teachers what to teach and how to teach it," said Mr Pounce.

"Pupil learning is what schools are about. But it has not been central to governors' concerns in the past because they haven't known how to get a handle on it," he said.

In his annual report last year, HM chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, said, "Governors are deflected from discharging their key function of strategic direction. In plain language that means asking relatively simple questions about standards of pupil achievement; about behaviour and attendance; about homework, attitudes and expectations."

Walter Ulrich, spokesman for the National Association of Governors and Managers, says: "Governors tend to fight shy of the curriculum and listen to what the head chooses to tell them. What they don't realise is that all the really hard questions about the curriculum are not really professional questions at all and go much wider."

He says there is a need for helping governors to become more confident on curriculum issues so that they could engage in constructive dialogue with the head. Matters such as the budget and staff appointments cannot be dealt with without an adequate understanding of the curriculum, and the problems with providing and delivering it.

Failure factors governors should monitor

OFSTED fails schools where it is evident that: * pupil progress is low * discipline is poor * exclusions are frequent * attendance is poor * teaching is unsatisfactory * the national curriculum is not provided * spiritual, moral social and cultural development is poor * pupils are physically or emotionally at risk * relationships are confrontational * governors are ineffective * managers are ineffective * staff are absent or demoralised * poor value for money is provided Adapted from OFSTED's Framework for the Inspection of Schools Annex 1: schools requiring special measures

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