Close, friendly eye on heads

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Governors are happier coping with appraisal than with teacher recruitment. Jill Parkin reports

The critical friend is keeping a closer watch on heads, according to a new survey into the attitudes of governors.

Of the members who responded to the survey by the National Association of Governors and Managers, 88 per cent said that appraising the headteacher was an important responsibility. Only five years ago the figure was 55 per cent.

Appraisal of heads has been a controversial matter in the past and it seems likely that high-profile cases such as the conviction of Colleen McCabe for stealing pound;500,000 from her school, as well as government guidance have changed perceptions.

While 95 per cent believe it is their job alone to monitor the budget; 3 per cent think the job should be shared with the head and just 2 per cent that it should be done solely by the head.

Jane Phillips, chair of NAGM, says the survey shows governors have a clear idea of their role but feel the Government does not. The surveys over the past five years, show that governors appear to be drawing a clearer-than-ever distinction between strategic and management roles, and to see they have a part to play in the former but are less enthusiastic about the latter.

"Governors know what it is appropriate for them to be doing and what it is not," says Ms Phillips. "Their understanding is far superior to that of the people who dole out responsibilities willy-nilly because they can't think where else to place those duties. This links with the feeling - also clear in the survey - of being undervalued and under-resourced.

"Because their responsibilities have been added to piecemeal, they have a very difficult job, and expect to be properly supported and resourced. They continue to watch the pigs flying by while they wait to be valued similarly to headteachers.

"Governors are maturing into their enlarged role. So they are now accepting some of the responsibilities which they see as difficult - but which they recognise as appropriate. Headteacher appraisal fits into this category.

Deciding pay for all teachers does not."

Seventy-nine per cent thought that it was their job to ensure the national curriculum is implemented, 82 per cent to decide the conduct of the school and 96 per cent to be involved in establishing the school's aims and policies.

They were rather less enthusiastic about setting key stage targets (49 per cent); writing the Office for Standards in Education action plan (48 per cent); and deciding the timing of the school day (52 per cent).

The survey, backed by The TES, attracted 280 respondents, half of whom had served on school governing bodies for more than eight years. All but 12 per cent had acted as chair.

Among the least popular tasks was keeping a pupil attendance register, with only 5 per cent considering it a governor's responsibility. In line with guidance and continuing a downward trend over the past few years, only 51 per cent consider staff appointments as a governor's exclusive role, with 32 per cent thinking it should be the job of the head alone, 5 per cent the head and staff, and 8 per cent governors and the head together.


The "any other comments" section of the questionnaire produced grumbles about under-funding, inadequate training and the difficulty of recruiting chairs, but also a few positive comments.

"The requirement to hold a daily act of worship is deeply offensive and insulting to governors and heads of non-denominational schools."

"Vehemently opposed (to heads' sole responsibility to appoint staff). One bad appointment causes endless problems."

"Having to cope with budget reductions because politicians cannot do their calculations and then blame others for their mistakes" "Having to keep up with the constant tinkering in procedures and rules."

"Minor responsibilities are given (litter) and major responsibilities taken away (interviewing)."

"We have just had a new school built and I have been involved in every aspect from the beginning - most satisfying."

"A large commitment of unpaid time effectively subsidising the LEA by attending meetings at my own expense."

"The enormous pleasure of seeing students achieve."

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