Is anybody listening?

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
As the National Governors' Council decides its response to ministers' reform plans, Chris Gale says the consultation has been inadequate

Over the past few weeks on these pages we have seen many interested (not to say biased) parties weighing in to the discussion over the reforms for governing bodies.

I have been asked why the National Governors' Council has not followed suit - and the answer is because we have been listening, and will listen some more tomorrow at our conference for member associations. Only when we have heard the views of members will we respond.

However, we must express some serious reservations about the consultation process.

Even before schools minister Jacqui Smith's recent article (TES, January 19), there was dismay about the way the consultation was being carried out. We were pleased that Jacqui announced the consultation at our annual meeting last November, and in the press. But that should not have replaced sending the document, as a matter of course, to every school.

Indeed, in the last sentence of the minister's article she hopes as many governors as possible will read the consultation. This sounds a bit rich!

Cutting down on bureaucracy cannot be allowed to disenfranchise people from taking part in a consultation on their working practices.

It must also be questionable for her to comment on legitimate pinion expressed during the consultation process. Such comment should be reserved until the process ends, after all opinions have been taken into account, otherwise one might be tempted to think that the result is a foregone conclusion.

Another criticism we have is that surveys used to support the reforms were based on small samples of governors, the results of which may not be valid. Let's get some real data to use as evidence before making statements about governors having too much to do!

But perhaps the time has come to go further. We seem to have had many piecemeal attempts at reviewing the role of governing bodies. Before the Cabinet Office's report on reducing red tape and the Commons select committee report of July 1999, we had something called local management of schools. Remember that? The question is - does LMS still mean anything in these days of more autonomy for schools? Has there been a shift in the line of accountability? To whom is the head now accountable, or for that matter the governing body? Should there not be a review of the roles of the governing body and education authorities in employing staff?

I would suggest the consultation is ignoring these real issues.

Chris Gale is chairwoman of the National Governors' Council. The proposals for the reform of governing bodies are at www.dfee.gov.uk governorconsult.htm


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