When I arrived in Ealing last summer I was already convinced of the value of governor forums from my experience at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. The publication of Excellence in Schools provided opportunities to suggest the idea to councillors and governors.
I wrote to all governing bodies inviting them to an open meeting in January to discuss the possibility of setting up a forum. That letter made it clear that, while a forum should be for all governors, councillors and headteachers were invited not to attend this first exploratory meeting to ensure they were represented by lay governors.
At the meeting, the Chair of the Education Committee welcomed governors and underlined the authority's support before tactfully withdrawing. Pat Petch then explained the role of the National Governors' Council and how different local governor forums and associations operate. The meeting agreed that an Ealing Association should be established and a small group of volunteers arranged to meet again to work out the details.
A draft constitution was prepared, (using examples from other associations) and plans made for a launch meeting to be addressed by a high-profile speaker at the end of the summer term.
Before Easter, the draft constitution and provisional arrangements for elections to a management committee were circulated to each governing body and they were invited to give formal consideration to the idea, nominate a representative to be the contact point, and make suggestions about possible activities for the forum or changes to the draft constitution.
It remains to be seen how support emerges in July, but there is growing interest. Key elements for success so far include: a clear statement from the local authority that the body will be genuinely independent but that its existence will be valued and supported.
It was vital to have input from someone (in our case Pat Petch) with experience of setting up a forum. Governors, already busy people, need to be reassured that the extra call on their time will be worth the effort. Those prepared to join the steering group to get things going or elected to the management committee will need to commit extra time, but this need not be excessive if the authority provides administrative support - as we are doing. For the majority of governors, there must be a considerable advantage in having direct control of an organisation that exists solely to support them in their task.