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Reasonable effort, but must try harder

Governors bear some of the blame for the 15,000 teachers in schools that are alleged to be incompetent, according to Chris Woodhead, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector. In his annual report, issued last week, he says: "In a small but worrying proportion of schools, governors have been unprepared to deal with serious weaknesses, particularly those where the leadership shown by the headteacher or the teaching competence of a member of staff is poor."

Nearly all governing bodies need to learn how to raise standards the report says in the unpublicised section devoted to school governors. The main tasks in which they need help are: * defining jointly with headteachers their respective roles and responsibilities; * securing the quality of the curriculum; * creating and overseeing the implementation of an effective staff pay policy; * overseeing sound development and clear action plans following an OFSTED inspection; * relating financial planning to development and action planning; * evaluating the outcomes of planned improvements; * using performance indicators and other measures of progress, alongside financial benchmarks.

Most governors support professional staff positively and many know their schools well, the report says. They carry out their duties in a dedicated and usually effective manner. Problems occur when the strategic role of the governing body is not defined with sufficient clarity. The governing body can then be left impotent, unsure of what, if any, contribution it has to make; or conversely, can involve itself too closely in the day-to-day management of the school.

Head teachers' statutory termly reports to governors frequently gave a picture of organisational or social matters. Many gave little attention, however, to the quality of education or standards of achievement.

Drawing on inspection reports, Chris Woodhead says governors in most primary schools have approved the required range of curriculum policies. Governors of secondary schools are becoming better informed about the curriculum. They are often linked with subject areas and visit classes or attend presentations by heads of department.

About one in five schools has yet to finish the review of policy on sex education required by the Department for Education and Employment. Most schools have pay policies, the best of which "successfully match the curricular and management requirements of the school with staff development needs, although in many schools policies do not provide objective criteria for the award and review of financial incentives." Few schools have used the new pay structure effectively to introduce changes to staffing, redefine responsibilities or aid recruitment.

In about one-third of schools, governors have used their discretion to increase the pay of the headteacher and deputy. A small number of schools have introduced schemes to reward outstanding performance in the classroom. "Many governing bodies are, however, reluctant to meet their responsibility by monitoring the implementation of their pay policy," says the report.

Governors' training is described as "often haphazard" with governors "shortsightedly reluctant to spend money on their own development." The report also criticises governors' oversight of financial matters: "In particular, the implementation of financial decisions needs to be monitored more rigorously. "

It says effective governing bodies use agreed policies linked carefully to school development priorities to guide their spending decisions, sometimes using alternative budget projections to show their likely impact. "Plans are often drawn up by senior staff drawing on trends in the number of pupils on roll, staffing and other running costs. When based on reliable financial forecasts, these provide valuable guidance for decisions on longer-term developments.

"Management of financial resources is weakened in a substantial proportion of schools because plans are inadequately costed. However, in schools which do cost their plans, governors continue to be frustrated by the late arrival of information about their delegated budget; and by the abandonment of plans and damage to current provision caused when reductions in the local education authority budget lead to unexpected changes in that of the school."

At the end of the 199394 financial year, half of primary schools carried forward Pounds 18,000 or more, about Pounds 100 per pupil; for secondary schools the amounts were Pounds 57,000 and Pounds 8O per pupil. These sums are usually accumulated to fund accommodation or resources projects.

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