A demanding new inspection framework is going to mean a culture change on the board. Laurence Pollock reports
WITH the best will in the world, school governors are not captains of industry. Most are comfortable with the "critical friend" model rather than the pro-active, visionary entrepreneur one.
Office for Standards in Education inspections, for instance, are watched from the wings. Only the chair and perhaps a governor responsible for special needs might get particular attention.
Until now, the inspection team have asked the question: "How well have the governors fulfilled their responsibilities?"
The traditional answer might be: "Worked hard all term and made satisfactory progress".
But a big culture change is on the way, with a new and more demanding inspection framework coming into effect in September. It could mean governors leading from the front or even having visions occasionally.
Framework 2003 - Inspecting Schools says inspectors must evaluate and report on the extent to which the governing body:
* helps shape the vision and direction of the school;
* ensures the school fulfils its statutory duties, for example on special educational needs, race equality, disability and sex discrimination;
* has a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the school;
* challenges and supports the senior management team.
So is it a sea change, a tweak or just playing with words?
Jane Phillips, chair of the National Association of Governors and Managers, says the new guidelines mean that governors will have a leadership role.
But she is concerned that they may not be fully supported in these responsibilities, and particularly worried that governors are not in the remit of the National College for School Leadership.
Clerks will shortly have their own national training programme, while plans for a teachers' television channel have no outlet for governors, she notes.
"If Ofsted says governors have a leadership role and are line managers of headteachers, they need support. We would like to get governors included at the NCSL."
Her recipe for success is more highly developed, streamlined governors'
roles, less concerned with trivial tasks, and with some thinking about where governors add the most value.
The need to sort out relationships between heads and boards is also on heads' minds. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads'
Association, believes the expectations on governors have been unclear.
He said: "It is difficult to see how Ofsted can make firm judgments about the performance of governors considering the lack of clarity between the role of heads and governors.
"We would welcome comments on the extent to which governors offer added value in the strategic development of the school and where they attempt to involve themselves too much in day-to-day management.
"The difficulty is a background where many governing bodies and heads find it difficult to draw a firm line between their responsibilities.
"The secret is to set up the right lines of communication between heads and governing bodies, sharing the knowledge that needs to be shared. When that works well, both sides will be clear about roles."
But in some schools, governors' access to the information they need to undertake a more significant leadership role is sometimes constrained, or worse.
Previous research has suggested that some LEAs do not circulate their advisers' reports on schools to the governors because of opposition from heads.
And perennial complaints circulate among some governing bodies about access to Panda reports, which set school performance against social background and demographic composition.
A spokeswoman for Ofsted said Pandas were made available to schools annually and heads were encouraged to share them.
David Bell, chief inspector, has previously insisted that governors should have access to relevant information about their schools - a point reiterated by Neil Davies, chair of the National Governors' Council, who met him recently to discuss the new inspection framework.
Mr Davies would not discuss the meeting, but said: "The important strategic role that governors play has been acknowledged in the new framework and mentioned more than ever before.
"I think governors are already carrying out a strategic role and that is why Ofsted has mentioned it.
"Some governors may not feel too pleased initially, but once things sink in they will welcome it."
In the 1980s, parent power was the factor that would weed out bad practice.
More recently, superheads have been a nostrum favoured by the Government.
Now governors might be asked to step into the driving seat. But are they ready to meet those expectations?
"Framework 2003 - Inspecting Schools", see www.ofsted.gov.ukpublicationsNext week: what does leadership really mean and where can governors get ideas and resources to help them with their changing role?