Burden of responsibility weighs heavily on governors' heads

13th March 2009 at 00:00
An exclusive survey of more than 1,400 governors reveals that most feel the additional duties that have been thrust on them over the past 20 years have become excessive. But they say they still don't want to be paid

School governors believe they have been given "excessive" responsibilities over the past 20 years, but have ruled out being paid for their work, according to a new survey.

More than seven out of 10 governors who expressed a view in a joint poll conducted by The TES and the National Governors' Association said they had been given excessive duties over the past two decades.

The concerns were raised as the Government carries out a review of school governance after suggestions that governing bodies are too large and not sufficiently well trained to handle their jobs. A final report from the official review is expected later in the year.

Despite their concerns and the extra responsibilities, governors told the TES-NGA survey that they are strongly opposed to becoming paid professionals. More than seven in 10 said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with governors being given a salary. Only 8 per cent of respondents were strongly in favour.

Phil Revell, the chief executive of the association, said that not being paid gave governors a "moral authority" that helped them in their work. But governors, who work as volunteers, should be given mandatory training and support to help them cope, he said. More than nine out of 10 respondents to the TES poll agreed.

"Becoming a governor is a major commitment," said Mr Revell. "It is a complex role and you can't do it properly unless you are trained. The Government seems reluctant to make training compulsory for fear of putting people off becoming governors in the first place."

Helen Richardson, the chief executive of the National Co-ordinators of Governor Services, said that the job had "grown like topsy", with the extra burdens put on governing bodies. "Every few months someone gives governors a new job without any real forethought about what that means."

Both she and Mr Revell identified the financial management standard as an example of a good idea that had created excessive work for many schools because of poor implementation. The quality mark - which demands that governors produce evidence of their ability to handle a school's financial system effectively - is now mandatory for secondary schools and will become so for primaries from 2011.

"It is inappropriate for small primary schools to have to go through it, when there's already a local authority audit in place," said Mr Revell. "We are seeing a huge amount of pain for not a lot of gain."

Governing bodies are predicting cuts in school spending over the next two years as the recession bites, the poll found. Almost 75 per cent of respondents said there would be a reduction in spending as they attempt to save money in anticipation of cuts in school budgets from 2011. Fears have been raised that this could mean job losses or building projects being put on hold.

The governors' concerns chime with those of headteachers, who also fear that the next academic year will be tough financially. As reported in last week's TES, heads in some areas are worried about rising wage and utility bills that they claim are not properly covered by increases in school budgets.

However, despite the difficulties, governors are committed to increasing their roles and responsibilities in relation to wider children's services. Eight out of 10 who expressed a view said that schools should play their part in the provision of wider children's services.

They did not want to abolish independent appeals panels for pupils excluded from school. The Conservatives have said they will abolish them, should they win the next general election, to give heads more power in deciding which pupils are excluded. Most governors oppose the move. At the moment, heads exclude, their decision has to be ratified by governors, but pupils can appeal.

"This is an important result, which shows that on this topic governors have a better grasp of the law than the Conservatives," said Mr Revell.

Let the pupils speak

Seven out of 10 governors are in favour of "pupil voice", including the role of pupils as associate governors, the TES-NGA survey found.

Only 3 per cent of governors are strongly opposed to having pupils on school governing bodies, the TES poll of serving governors shows.

The majority of them want to make a contribution to decisions about the role of the school curriculum.

Phil Revell, chief executive of the NGA, said this was in terms of overall strategy and direction, not in the day-to-day implementation, which he said should be carried out by teaching staff.

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