A governor's lot is still not a happy one
School governors remain sceptical about the impact of the Government's flagship education policies, a new survey has revealed.
Six out of 10 governors believe it is still too difficult to sack failing teachers, according to a joint survey carried out by The TES and the National Governors' Association (NGA).
More than 900 governors completed the survey, which provides a unique insight into how the 30,000 members of school governing bodies in England feel about the far-ranging changes to the country's educational landscape since the coalition Government came to power last year.
Of those surveyed, 59 per cent of governors said they agreed, or strongly agreed, that it was too difficult to sack failing heads and teachers. Just 13 per cent disagreed.
This comes only weeks after education secretary Michael Gove vowed to make it "faster and easier" to get rid of incompetent teachers.
In the previous TESNGA survey in 2009, just 44 per cent of governors felt it was too difficult to sack failing staff.
NGA chief executive Emma Knights said: "Definitely the view has hardened. In just two years there's been a significant shift.
"Some of our members have complained it takes an incredibly long time if they want to get rid of someone on competence issues.
"There seems to be a caution among some school leaders to really grasp that nettle."
Ms Knights also said she was "disappointed" that 48 per cent of governors said their school had already altered its curriculum as a result of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBac). In comparison, the schools of 29 per cent of respondents had not made any changes to meet the requirements of the Government's new measure of academic rigour, which is now a key criterion in GCSE league tables.
"The EBac is not being used by universities in their entrance requirements," she added. "Where's the driver? Why are people taking this so seriously? It's an example of how the school system is so responsive to data published in the so-called league tables."
The survey also suggests that Mr Gove's rhetoric about cutting red tape has yet to be backed up by a substantial reduction in governors' paperwork, with 41 per cent of respondents saying they disagreed or strongly disagreed that bureaucracy had been reduced since the Coalition came to power. In contrast, 32 per cent said there had been a noticeable reduction.
Clare Blair, chair of governors at Orchard Park Community Primary School in Cambridge, said the Government's rhetoric about cutting red tape had not been mirrored by a less onerous workload for governors.
"I wouldn't say there's been any reduction in the amount of paperwork which crosses my desk, or the desk of my headteacher. An awful lot of paperwork isn't learning-related; it's about child welfare issues and partnership working.
"Most people in school leadership say they have little time to enjoy classroom teaching, as they are too busy filling in paperwork," she added.
More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of governors said they would need to reduce spending on staff over the next two years due to financial constraints, while just 19 per cent said staffing levels would be unaffected.
Another impact of the savings imposed by the Government are cuts to local authorities' central services, and over three-quarters (76 per cent) said this had already had, or was likely to have, an adverse effect on their school.
Ms Knights said the reduction of heads' use of school-improvement services would have the most marked impact on performance.
"We would say it's absolutely essential for schools to have expert advice, but not every school may put that at the top of their agenda, (but) it is an important driver of improvement," she added.
Governors also gave a mixed response to the question of whether conversion to academy status would drive up overall standards. Twenty-five per cent agreed or strongly agreed that it would, while 51 per cent disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "For far too long schools have been trapped in complex red tape when dealing with struggling teachers. That's why we are consulting on a new, simpler and faster system which will help schools deal with poor performance in a fair way.
"We are reviewing thousands of pages of guidance to ensure it is short and clear so that schools know exactly what they have to do by law, what they should do, and what they can choose to do.
He added that schools were "voting with their feet" and choosing to convert to academy status. "The fact is that not only are academies' results improving faster than the national average, but they also helping to raise standards in local underperforming schools."
Overall, the consensus on the policies introduced by the Government was split: 41 per cent of governors were very or cautiously positive about the impact of the changes, while 47 per cent said their view was very or slightly negative.