A serious error of judgment;Viewpoint;Briefing;Governors;Opinion

12th November 1999 at 00:00
The National Governors Council and the Secondary Heads Association issued a joint statement on school funding last month. John Gibbings, a governor for 40 years, is worried about the NGC meddling in party politics

I AM concerned by the National Governors' Council teaming up with a teacher trade union to attack, as the opening words of their statement makes plain, not government but the Labour party.

The trade union Secondary Heads Association is, by its remit, concerned for the terms and conditions of its members. The purpose of the NGC is to aid the work of governors in their efforts toward the general good health of school education. One of its prime functions is surely the fostering of good governance. To practise what is clearly party politics is quite outside its remit.

The contents of the NGCSHA document and the fact that it is addressed to the Labour party show that it is party-political. Eight of its nine sections deal with just the standard union call for more money. The NGC would have gained far more respect, particularly with the Government, had it addressed itself to the lessons from highly successful schools that operate within the existing spending limits and to the other problems of inadequacies in governance.

Why has it not expressed a public view on these problems - such as the inept governing body that ran up a deficit of about a quarter of a million pounds apparently in one year? Or the ones that have, through faulty exclusion or disciplinary hearings, through ineptitude and unwillingness to consult, cost dearly the education funds of local diocesan authorities? A list of our failings could be very long. Why, they should ask publicly, have governments of both parties transferred so much work from local education authorities to governing bodies without a corresponding transfer of resources to operate it - thus getting education administration on the cheap?

It seems that either the NGC has poor judgment, or is out of touch with the realities of governance, or very immature politically.

Perhaps it is time for the NGC to hold itself more aloof from trade unions as well as government. Its status would surely be more respected. After all, if governors in general had done the job properly the Government would not have had to limit so strongly the freedom of governors to fix the salaries of headteachers in schools. I understand that government also had to step in to stop the inordinate rises awarded by some governing bodies just before retirement of their headteachers simply to enhance retirement pension.

Generally I strongly support the NGC. It has had to rely on government subsidy; I understand that the amount is quite insufficient to fund a reasonably permanent secretariat. But to make this party political attack, on trade union lines, on one particular political party, could hardly induce the Government to keep its subsidy to the NGC - let alone increasing it.

Long may the NGC campaign on our behalf; on this occasion it has made a serious error of judgment.

John Gibbings is a governor trainer on the Wirral.

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