25th September 1998 at 01:00
Q I understand that the Office for Standards in Education inspectors has been told to "mark" governors according to their competence. Will these gradings be made known to us? Don't you think they should be? Or maybe you think we shouldn't be inspected at all when we are unpaid volunteers with limited time and don't enjoy the level of support professionals get, such as typing and free phone calls.

A You raise more interesting points than the obvious one. But the instruction to OFSTED inspectors to grade governors on how well they fulfilled their strategic role did, I understand, apply only for a limited period earlier this year and not now. The gradings were not made public, and - I assume - were to inform the inspectorate and the Department for Education and Employment on the development of governors generally as shown in a sample of schools.

If the grading of governing bodies became a permanent feature of the inspection system, then I certainly think the findings should be published along with all the other findings of inspectors. But in this case the grading would have to be based on more than first impressions or anecdotal evidence. Indeed it would need wide-ranging investigation against objective and open criteria. This would require considerably more time than is possible within the present framework. Therefore I should not support the publication of this year's snapshot of only part of the picture, because it couldn't be totally comprehensive or fair in the circumstances.

Appraisal of governors' work under the more rigorous conditions mentioned above, if practicable, would be a different matter. I do not think we should be exempt from quality control just because we are volunteers. Either our work is an important factor in building a successful school, or it isn't. And if it is, then it deserves the same scrutiny as other factors.

But is the quality of our work entirely within our control? I would not be surprised to hear that some governors haven't a clue what "strategic" means in the context of their job and that many occupy themselves too much with trying to oversee the teaching and day-by-day administration of the school, an impossible as well as an inappropriate activity. Where governing bodies have not assumed their proper strategic stance, it may well be due more to the unwillingness of the headteacher to let them fulfil that role than to any shortcomings of the governors.

I also know that local authorities differ enormously in the amount and quality of training they provide for governors. Furthermore, at one extreme there are local authorities who don't let schools do their job without unwarranted interference and at the other, some who fail to give necessary support to governors when they are finding it hard to keep their end up.

Finally, not all inspectors are equally committed to the role of governors. All these factors should affect any judgment of our competence. It must therefore be a refined and sensitive process.

I note what you say about governors' lack of access to support services. It is a sore point with many. What's more, it can be a factor in limiting schools' recruitment across the social spectrum - the hidden costs of being a governor are often considerable. Surely school budgets should have an allowance earmarked for governors' administration, so that those who need help with these things see it as a right?

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