Francis Beckett reports on findings of a TES survey of governing bodies in the FE sector which offers surprising insights into those who are running our colleges.
The overwhelming majority of college governors are against payment of honoraria and other rewards for their services, a national survey for The TES has revealed.
Only around one-in-seven (15 per cent) are "clearly in favour" of payment. More than six out of ten (63 per cent) are "strongly opposed" around one-in-five (22 per cent) are "opposed with reservations," according to the survey. It suggests that recent reports on the lack of pay being a deterrent to recruitment are a myth.
Where the question of honoraria or other payment has been put to the board of governors themselves, most boards voted against.
"If you start paying the governors, that has to come out of the college budget and there is less money available for work with the students," said Councillor Ray Waller of Hartlepool College of FE. Anyway, "governing bodies are now self-perpetuating, and if there is a payment they ought to be accountable". He is not aware that any of his colleagues on the governing board want to be paid.
"Absolutely not," said Ivor Hockman of Woodhouse Sixth Form College in North London. "Payment will not attract committed people to serve on this sort of body. If you stopped paying MPs there'd still be a queue of people to do it."
"I've been chair of Widnes Sixth Form College board of governors since 1974 and I've never had a penny," said John Collins "I discern no wish on the part of my colleagues for payment."
"Payment will not help us to get the people we want" says Colin Tagg of Dunstable College. "Governors have full-time jobs and employers will still be reluctant to give people enough time off."
John Roberts at Henley College, Coventry, thinks payment "would put us in the pockets of the full-time staff". Alan Owen at York Sixth Form College has found that "usually people are prepared to give professional advice without payment". Roy Holden at South Trafford College said: "If college governors are paid why not school governors?" Monty Williams at the City Literary Institute says: "We don't even pay expenses unless they were requested and approved before being incurred, and we prefer not to pay them?" Wendy Farrow's board of governors at Daventry Tertiary College is one of many boards which does not even take expenses - but she is uneasy about the system which forces them to vote for their expenses. "We would never vote for taking our expenses - it feels like dipping our hands into the college budget. It should be accepted practice that expenses are paid." But only expenses.
Some self-employed governors feel differently. Management consultant Geoff Nichol at Darlington College of Technology says simply; "If I'm not working I'm not earning." At Norton Radstock College, near Bath, Jeremy Blatchford says: "HMG is getting me very cheap, i.e. for nothing. I have governors who professionally charge themselves out at Pounds 200 an hour. Recently an appeal against exclusion cost me Pounds 150 in lost billing time. We are being taken for a ride."
He does not want these consulting fees met, but fears that without any payment, governing bodies will come to consist only of those "whose companies or trade unions pay" - a point echoed by Audrey Simpson at Brighton College of Technology. "If people cannot afford to be governors you will not get a proper cross-section of the community."
Bill Wannop at Newton Rigg, an agricultural college in Cumbria, puts figures on it. Chairs, who he reckons put in one day a week, should get Pounds 8,000 a year. Sub-committee chairs should get Pounds 5,000 and other governors Pounds 2,000.
Ron Goodwin at Cleveland Tertiary College only wants payment for those who are losing money. He would not benefit personally, because his employer, ICI, lets him have the necessary time. John Bruce at South East Essex College sees a matter of principle. "Colleges should be self-determining. So they should determine this matter themselves."
Kidderminster College actually paid an allowance after incorporation of Pounds 3,000 to the chairman and the chair of finance and Pounds 1,000 to other governors, until the FEFC told them to stop. They may be asked to pay it back. "Being a governor used to be a pastime, now it's damned hard work," says chair James Millington.
Three who opposed payment with reservations were John Ault at Yeovil College, George Mardle at Stoke on Trent College, Grantham College's Philip Newton and Hinckley College's Kath Taylor. Mr Ault was broadly opposed, but thought there might be a case for a small honorarium for chairs only. Mr Mardle thought the problem was that members of other public-sector quangos are paid, so that "FE is seen as the Cinderella of the system. Our sacrifices are worth recognising. I say recognising, not rewarding". Mrs Taylor does not want payment for herself or most others, but "if they are self-employed perhaps they should be paid". Mr Newton wants a small payment for chairs and vice chairs only.