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Reach out to your neighbourhood

New legislation proposes greater emphasis on the role of governors in the community. Jane Martin explains

Working in partnership with the community is a phrase that pops up all the time in school mission statements. The education Bill proposes renaming co-opted members community governors. But what will all this actually mean?

The Local Government Act 2000 requires local authorities to "promote the social, economic and environmental well-being of the community" and created a new community planning process involving local people.

As a result, local councils will now have a community strategy with priorities and objectives which have been informed and shaped by the community. One priority will usually focus on education and lifelong learning and should provide the vision for local education services.

School governors should make sure they have a role in this process and are aware of the community strategy so they can see where their school fits into this bigger picture.

Why is this important? After all, school governors are elected and appointed to act as "critical friends" to their schools. And after many years of delegated budgets and league tables, schools are in the habit of competing for business, not collaborating.

We know that the best schools are those which reach out to their families and communities and provide a relevant and appropriate curriculum. We also know that the most effective schools see themselves as a community resource and encourage learning in a range of different ways.

But the scene is set for schools to develop that role and the governing body should be at the heart of its development.

The national strategy for neighbourhood renewal is providing a new focus for how local authorities and communities deliver public services. It is a strategy which relies on the participation of local people.

Effective local authorities will be supporting neighbourhood renewal as part of their community strategy. These LEAs will be working with schools and governors, but schools need to be more aware of and responsive to the needs of local people and more partnership working, not only with neighbouring schools but with services such as health and crime prevention.

New ways of collaborative working should be regarded as helping the school to achieve the best for pupils and certainly not as a mere distraction.

This agenda implies a refocusing of school governors on a neglected role - that of community champion. Governors should be a bridge between school and community and focus on how the school can contribute to well-being and renewal.

Governors have a huge amount of local experience and should increasingly see themselves as networkers and influencers in the local governance of education - working with other governors and local neighbourhood groups - as well as being advocates for their school.

This is an extension of the representative role of governors, both of the community in the school and of the school in the community.

Dr Martin works for the Improvement and Development Agency and is the co-author of a pamphlet, 'Governing Education for Community Regeneration'. The subject will be the theme of a conference in London on July 8. Tel: 020 7689 8808 or see www.neilstewartassociates.comsa142

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