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Respite and responsibility

When I was organising workshops for a county governors' association conference last term, one governor offered to lead a session on the theory and practice of governance. We have had many long and fascinating discussions on how governing bodies function, management techniques, strategic planning and the division of responsibilities between governors and heads, but I thought this session might be a little esoteric. In fact it was a sell-out, attracting more participants than the other more accessible topics on offer.

Our local education authority officer in charge of governor training now has more requests for sessions on the status and function of governing bodies than on specific issues such as special needs, financial planning or sex education.

Having survived several hectic years of learning to cope with local management of schools, writing policies to meet the demands of a mass of legislation, preparing for Office for Standards in Education inspections and dealing with the aftermath, many governors feel we have fulfilled our responsibilities but have not yet found a role. At last we have time to draw breath and take a longer view.

We need to involve ourselves in long-term financial and development planning and in monitoring and improving school effectiveness. And any governor who has survived a first four-year term and been brave enough to volunteer for another has probably acquired enough insight and skill to make a valuable contribution.

OFSTED and the Audit Commission have issued Lessons in Teamwork - How School Governing Bodies Can Become More Effective. I realise that praising any offshoot of OFSTED is like saying Des O'Connor is your favourite singer, but this booklet really does provide a very useful starting point for any governing body wishing to review its practices and plan for its own development as well as the school's.

The whole booklet is based on networking and sharing of good practice, such as county associations. It covers defining roles and dividing responsibilities, induction of new governors, planning visits, working practices, accountability to parents, monitoring performance and development planning, as well as giving advice to dysfunctional governing bodies. There are useful examples and a check list for governors to access their own effectiveness.

One, point: I hate to quibble, but I do think Pounds 6 for a 27-page booklet is a bit steep. I can get the complete works of Jane Austen for that.

The National Association for Able Children in Education has also issued a booklet, School Governors and More Able Children. With the pressure on schools to work towards National Curriculum standards, the legal obligation to cater for special needs, and the financial constraints we all struggle under, more able children can easily be overlooked. This publication, available from the Department for Education and Employment, advises how to identify these pupils and to draw up a policy to provide for them.

The advice is sound and important but marred by typographical errors which make nonsense of the statistics (my very own very able children spent a happy hour on Christmas Eve trying to make the figures work) and by the rather curious attitude to parents. They are mentioned only briefly - in terms of the acrimony caused by parents who think their perfectly ordinary child is gifted. The idea of partnership between home and school, so strong in the Special Needs Code of Practice. is sadly lacking.

But at least the booklet is free.

Lessons in Teamwork, from HMSO, PO Box 276, London SW8 5DT, tel 0171 873 9090. School Governors and More Able Children from DFEE, PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ, tel 0171 510 0150.

* Joan Dalton is governor of a primary school in the Midlands

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