A day out with David

28th November 1997 at 00:00
It rained for most of last week and the children I mind all had colds. This made the prospect of the National Governors' Council autumn conference, held last Saturday, unusually attractive.

To those of you with proper jobs, giving up your Saturday for yet another meeting may be a sacrifice; for me it is a treat. I get the chance to put on a smart suit, eat lunch sitting down and engage in conversation with real grown-ups. I even get a ride on a train. So off I went, resolved to refrain from my habit of humming "Nellie the Elephant" and to avoid exclaiming "Oh, look! Moo cows!" when looking out of the window. I frisked my handbag for bits of grubby tissue and acorns and chose items of clothing which had not been exposed to any toddlers' bodily fluids. A poster in my doctor's surgery recommends vaccination against hepatitis for sewage workers and those who care for under-fives. I know what they mean.

David Blunkett cannot have been looking forward to the day quite as much as I was. The NGC conference was his second meeting of the morning, and he was going to another at lunchtime before travelling to Wales for a fourth, with a red box to do in the car on the way. This was, he told us, the price one pays for winning an election. Poor lamb.

Redistributing funding more equitably among local authorities was going to be tricky too, he explained, with so many Labour backbenchers fighting their constituency corners. He was, however, noticeably more relaxed and confident than at the same meeting last year. Then he was on a tight rein, sticking closely to Labour's pre-election policy of promising only what was deliverable and carefully costed. Now, with the extra credit gained from having given to education more than was promised, he was warmly welcomed. Would we be applauding him so enthusiastically in another three or four years, he wondered?

One of my colleagues, a long-standing Labour supporter, is already more than a little disenchanted with the Government. "Clap!" I urged her, "Clap! Think of Gillian Sheppard. Think of John Patten."

There was good news for governors in Mr Blunkett's speech: an extra Pounds 5.2 million next year ring-fenced for governors' training and support. This is very welcome: the amalgamation of governors' training funds into Grants for Education Support and Training has left many governors unwilling to give priority to their own needs. As Mr Blunkett pointed out, personnel management alone - with such delicate issues as capability proceedings, appointing heads and setting salaries - requires high level skills.

He also suggested that some of the money might be used to allow governors time off work to perform their duties. This has particular resonance for those of us involved in local and national associations. We are pressing for increased consultation, closer partnership with local authorities, and representation on education committees. But all these mean more paperwork and often meetings held in working hours. The question of government money for local associations to enable them to operate independently of local authorities was also raised from the floor, and was promised "serious consideration".

I was disappointed not to hear more from the Secretary of State about the consultation on the White Paper. Perhaps it is a little too soon for all the information to have been assimilated and changes made. But I am sure Mr Blunkett's reception at his next NGC conference will depend on how sympathetically he has adapted policies to meet the concerns expressed in the NGC's response to the consultation, and the responses of many other individuals and organisations.

Flexibility shows strength, not weakness. See you next year, David.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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