Respect means more than a free (child-sized) lunch

Alan Bain has been a chair of governors for 21 years. His school was put in special measures in January and he resigned last month. Here he explains why.

In 1981, the Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer, Torville and Dean were European ice skating champions, Chariots of Fire was playing to packed cinemas and I became chair of governors at my local primary school. The governors met three times a year, gave a ready assent to the headteacher's wishes and chatted with teachers in the friendly staffroom.

Things have changed and 21 years is a long time to chair a 350-pupil primary school. We have seen through the heady days of local management, read floods of glossy pamphlets, produced action plans, vision statements and schemes of delegation. Voluntary workers all, governors plough through it, discarding the useless, using the useful, gritting our teeth at the downright ridiculous, and trying to achieve the best for our children, parents and teachers.

Then the bombshell bursts. This year special measures are introduced after a disastrous Office for Standards in Education inspection. Called to account, the governors troop into school before an inspector. He treats us like a naughty class.

"You have failed your pupils. They leave the school worse than they come in," he claims. "Are we allowed to disagree?" I ask. "You are impertinent," he retorts in his best schoolmasterly fashion, seemingly unaware that we are not his cowering pupils but a committed group of hard-pressed professionals who have put in hours of work.

Apart from taking the lessons ourselves, we cannot see how we have failed. Advisers from Bath and North East Somerset, our education authority, had done nothing to warn us of impending doom. We were not guided in how we were meant to arrest the slide.

Then the OFSTED report is published: "Governors have not sufficiently developed their strategic role."

Really? How? "Not enough meetings," is the predictable reply. So, overnight, the number of meetings is trebled and committees doubled. Sometimes a committee consists of just the headteacher and a governor. Co-ordination is more difficult and information is harder to get because decisions are made in so many small groups. The head puts up complicated overhead slides and feeds us innumerable pieces of paper with little boxes waiting to be ticked.

We are invited to an LEA project group where rows of advisers, educational psychologists and other high-salaried sundry "experts" line up to give support to our beleaguered school. Education and management-speak fills the air. The occasional threatening undercurrent about the governors'

monitoring role completely escapes me as I cannot follow their conversation.

I am putting in around five hours' voluntary work a week. Paper piles up in files, more glossy booklets fall on my doormat and meetings proliferate like time-hungry locusts, together with spiralling demands for attending more training.

I ask for two hours' secretarial support a week in addition to the clerk's role to help the hard-pressed governors. It amounts to just over pound;400 a year from the budget, a paltry amount considering the extra pound;30,000 given to help us through special measures. "Very unusual and not possible. Anyway, there's nothing left," I'm told. I have had enough and resign.

I have run large voluntary groups and seen that a few encouraging words and practical support can bring years of allegiance. In my 21 years as chair of governors, an understanding and acknowledgement of this has been lacking; it is considered a magnanimous gesture to be given a free (child's portion) Christmas lunch in the school canteen. It is time we woke up to the way governors are being abused and insulted by the lack of resources. They are volunteers who need treating with respect and I cannot say I have received much in my service as a governor.

Perhaps OFSTED was right, though - maybe I am just impertinent.

* What do you think? Send your views and opinions to Karen Thornton, The TES, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, or email

The Rev Alan Bain is former chair of governors at St Philip's primary school, Bath

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