EDUCATION ministers have been accused of having a cavalier attitude towards governors, after failing to show up at a key annual meeting - for the second year running.
Education Secretary David Blunkett, billed as the keynote speaker at the National Governors' Council's annual general meeting, backed out - leaving Peter Makeham, a senior civil servant in charge of the pay and performance policies for teachers, to hold the fort. Last year, schools minister Estelle Morris missed the same meeting.
Carole Thomson, from Oxfordshire governors' association, was applauded when she said: "I find it very, very sad that the NGC has been let down by a senior minister."
Maureen Grace, from Bristol, told Mr Makeham: "It gives the message that neither ministers or you value what governors do."
When Mr Makeham tried to defend his bosses, saying they worked "enormously long hours", he was heckled with calls of "so do we" and "they get paid, we don't".
The council's executive has written to Mr Blunkett, accusing the government of confusion - especially given its own response to a parliamentary report on governors, which said they were "insufficiently appreciated".
"NGC members, who are all unpaid volunteers and have given up their free time, made considerable efforts (some at their own expense) to attend in expectation of hearing from a senior minister.
"They are bound to compare unfavourably their own sacrifice of time with what may appear to them to be cavalier treatment by paid ministers ."
The council's annual meeting, in London, was dominated by concerns about school funding and teacher pay. But the conference did manage to wrest some assurances from Mr Makeham.
He assured them that extra money set aside for schools for good teachers will cover the full cost of any pay rises. The government is offering promotion to a higher pay scale and a pound;2,000 pay-rise to teachers who pass a performance threshold.
Governors were concerned that ministers had failed to take into account the indirect cost of pay rises, including bigger pension payments. Mr Makeham promised that schools would also be refunded for these costs which are estimated to add another 17 per cent to the pound;2,000 bonus.
The government's pay and performance proposals are currently with the School Teachers' Review Body, which is expected to report back in January.
Mr Makeham advised governors not to take up training in performance management and performance-related pay until after the final decisions are made - probably next March - as important details could differ from the Government's current proposals.