A quick nod here, a collective grunt there...

1st November 1996 at 00:00
And lo and behold, another governor is appointed. Any fool can slip through the net - and many do, says Huw Thomas in his call for more stringent selection procedures. You trust certain people to do certain jobs. I am reassured by the certificate on my dentist's wall because it tells me that he studied his craft. I don't pull anyone in off the street to babysit my kids. I like my bus drivers to be sober. It's a basic fact of life that society weighs up the ability of certain people to take certain responsibilities.

There is one exception to the rule. Basically, any fool can be a governor - and many are. The competence of governing bodies will be an issue as long as they continue to be selected in the way they are.

As a Labour party activist and a deputy head of a primary school, I have seen this from a variety of perspectives and have experienced a range of governing bodies. I have sat in Labour party meetings at which governors are selected for local schools. The list is announced to a room of 12 people sad enough to keep up their attendance at party meetings. One of them puts their hand up and says: "I don't mind doing that". There are often no other nominations and the post is filled with a collective grunt.

There is no structure in place to scrutinise that person's aptitude for that post, so the way is open for any fool to slip through the net into a role where he or she has to set budgets, hear disciplinary complaints, carry out redundancy procedures and other such tasks. These people have fairly open access to schools but there is no vetting of police records to discover if they have a case history that suggests they could put children at risk.

I sit on what I consider to be an excellent governing body. But I have experienced colossal stupidity at other governors' meetings where a pile of people arrive from some other planet and grind on about their pet causes. There are a number of dedicated and able governors, but there is nothing that marks them apart from the incapable and uncommitted.

Governors are chucked in at the deep end. One day you put your hand up at some meeting, the next you are permanently excluding a pupil or selecting a headteacher. It is too easy.

We need to look at training and accreditation before people are allowed to sit on governing bodies. My local authority provides an excellent training programme but I would prefer mandatory attendance at some briefings on the role of a governor before people are put forward for the task. A national qualification should be developed to accredit potential governors; it should not be token training. And potential governors should be interviewed and subject to the usual police checks any employee is put through before they take up a post within the school.

Individual governors should also be stringently monitored and their performance regularly appraised. Lax attendance should lead to a quick dismissal. And school staff should have far more of an evaluative role in deciding whether their governing body is supporting them.

The make-up of governing bodies should be reviewed. If teaching and non-teaching staff are to be significant stakeholders, they must be given fuller representation.

In his recent article in The TES on the responsibilities of governors (September 20), Terry Mahoney called for a "sweeping Dearing-type review of their role, powers and purpose". I would add to his list a primary examination of their selection and qualifications. How else can I be sure I am not being governed by the educational equivalent of a drunk bus driver or an amateur dentist.

* Further contributions to this debate on the powers and responsibilities of governors should be sent to Bob Doe, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY

Huw Thomas is a deputy head and governor in Sheffield

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