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Speak up and stay healthy

Lynne Field assesses a guide that urges governors not to shy away from debate. This book has been eagerly awaited for some time by all those interested in the role of governing bodies in education today since few know more about the subject than the authors. That is why it is difficult to comprehend why they chose such a misleading title with the use of the word "new". It is made clear in the foreword that the epithet is employed in the sense of the new-style governor of the 1990s.

The pages are adorned by a number of poemsand there is a distinct feeling that this is the draft of a book since it is packed with diagrams, tables, sub-headings and bullet points that suggest the authors were still endeavouring to crystallise their thoughts. The intention is to make things clear for the reader, but the authors sail far too close to condescension.

The stated aim is "to help school governors find their feet in the new circumstances and to chart a viable way ahead". There are are chapters on accountability, governing body relationships and power, authority and partnership. Less familiar are chapters on imagery and on politics.

The aim of the chapter on imagery is to help governors understand their role more easily by examining the figurative language commonly used about discussing governance. The metaphor of the governing body as board of directors in the commercial sense is demolished and the "body" image developed with its attendant qualities of health and energy.

Holt and Hinds assert that governing bodies are not healthy because governors are "not behaving politically enough" and throughout the book there is disparagement of those who "see themselves as no more than obedient agents" and go in for "painting by numbers the scenes they're given to paint". Reluctance to engage in party political debate is seen as holding back the development of governing bodies. What the authors do not address is the potential divisiveness of such debate. Since most governors neither have the time nor the inclination to take the wider view, then the commanding heights will be occupied by people like themselves, hardly typical governors.

This mix of factual information, prophecy, whimsy and doubtful philosophical assertion adds up to a bold attempt to tackle issues and confront forces at work in education today.

The style is fragmented and often didactic, but the content frequently provocative and should be read by anyone with an interest in the effectiveness of the governing bodies.

Lynne Field is a governor trainer.

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