The anybody politic;Briefing;Governors

30th October 1998 at 00:00
Steve Devrell throws down the gauntlet and asks why people volunteer to be a governor.

In this world of political correctness and accountability, it seems incongruous that something so unaccountable and feudal as the school governing body is tolerated.

In many cases, it really is a hotch potch of anybodies running the institutions upon which Tony Blair is building his standards flagship. Indeed, the evidence is that the powers given to this most unrepresentative and unaccountable of quangoes is going to increase.

I cannot understand, in this day and age, why anyone would want to attend numerous committees, sub-committees, training courses and associated curriculum and administrative meetings without payment.

Not that I am advocating paying governors under the present regime, that would open up the system to abuse.

Yet people are queuing up for this seemingly unenviable role. So why do they do it? Why do people sip their chardonnay in the kitchen at parties and announce to all in earshot, "Of course, I am a governor at La De Dah School."

Most governors have no direct link with education and broadly fall into four distinct models: Local luminaries Prominent members of the local community like the vicar and the local councillor. In truth, these people would rather not lumber themselves with extra duties, but it is simply expected of them and they comply.

Pushy parents Some parent governors are unashamedly there to get their child a higher profile in school. Parents who are more involved with the school through the governing body, PTA or just bloody-mindedness earn more attention for their child. Teachers tend to give an increased regard to children of parents they encounter on a regular basis.

Sad charactersAdding importance to a fairly drab life is the reason the Little Big Man or Woman joins the governing body. It is their opportunity to exert a little power in a world where few such opportunities exist.

Megalo-members The megalomaniac governor is in it to provide him (and it's usually a male) with an extended power base.

He claims, at every opportunity to be a successful businessman and provides the most exotic of excuses when not attending a meeting. "I'm in Rio at a conference," or "Something big has come up at the office and I've got to sort it out."

Another thing about the "Megalo" governor, is that he tends not to rate teachers very highly. He thinks they work part-time, have too many holidays and are generally out of touch with the REAL world etc, etc. He also enjoys highlighting his apparently glamorous lifestyle whenever a teacher is in earshot. He believes he is the most valuable governor because of his "contacts" but he rarely delivers.

(NB: Governor types 3 and 4 can also operate under the guise of Ggovernor type 2.) Too few governors have a working knowledge of schools and education and their visits are rare and red-carpeted. Surely this is a most unsatisfactory way of running schools. lt doesn't matter how many ideas are thrown into the educational ring, it is the school that has to deliver and must therefore be administered properly.

In the future, governing bodies should be professional units in charge of a cluster of schools. They should be recruited from people who have a proven ability in education and administration with the lay influence kept to a minimum.

Lay governors are largely illogical appointments, yet the Government seems intent on increasing their influence. I wonder what reaction there would be if I decided to be on the governing body of the Royal Opera House or help administer the SAS. I have little knowledge of either, but having little knowledge of education does not prevent people making key decisions in the running of a school.

If Education, Education, Education is your priority Mr Blair, then redefine the criteria for becoming a school governor, because at the moment, it is a Shambles, Shambles, Shambles.

Steve Devrell is a teacher and former governor. He is writing in a personal capacity.

The TES would welcome correspondence on this or any other topic of interest to governors. Please write to Victoria Neumark, Editor. Governors Page, TES, Admiral House, 64-66 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

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