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Schools turn to business chiefs;Viewpoint

As the dust settles on last summer's School Standards and Framework Act,governing bodies in local authority schools are gearing themselves up to take on more devolved business, financial and management accountabilities.

This is an area where managers from business and industry are both able and willing to help. And it is from within the governing body of individual schools and colleges that some of the biggest contributions can be made.

That was the finding of an 18-month long study conducted by Industry in Education, which sought management-level volunteers from its supporting companies - including Midland Bank - to take management experience into schools as co-opted governors. All were prepared to be monitored before, during and after the study. The objective of the monitoring was to see how their own expectations, in terms of contributions, skills and roles, and those of head teachers' and chairs of governors matched reality, and where the most significant contributions lay.

The volunteers were consciously recruited to governing bodies of schools at which they had no family links, often in inner-city schools which had poorly developed business contacts or few parent governors from a management background. Managers did not choose the schools - the schools chose them!

At Midland Bank we found the results of our participation in that study very encouraging. It has caused us to develop further our approach, beyond the general encouragement we have for many years given to all staff who get involved in their local schools. We now see additional value in the identification of particularly experienced managers to serve as governors in schools which have needs for additional business skills.

The Industry in Education study showed that the business governor skills most valued by headteachers and chairs of governors were strategic planning, problem solving, team working, decision making, financial planning, personnel issues, and marketing.

Among the reciprocal benefits our managers experienced were a deeper understanding and respect for the challenges of education and the talents of those who deliver it. Many also felt they had gained valuable experience in tackling issues as part of a team that had a much broader range of external, lay and political representation than generally encountered within their day-to-day duties - an ideal preparation for wider community involvement in very senior jobs.

We have recently written to all general managers in Midland Bank alerting them to the results of the study and asking them to begin to identify experienced managers who would be willing to be "offered" for a spell of school governorship on this basis. All need to be volunteers and aware of the personal commitments of school governorship - much of it in their own time. The results are very encouraging and a steady stream of managers is comingforward.

My colleagues on Industry in Education's executive advisory board, who represent a wide range of industrial sectors, and I now want to take this forward as an integral part of the Government's proposed one-stop-shop for school governors in the recently announced "Excellence in Cities" programme.

The writer is head of human resources at Midland Bank and and executive advisory board member of Industry in Education

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