Dalton's Diary

5th May 1995 at 01:00
The latest glossy offering from the DFE and OFSTED is entitled "Governing Bodies and Effective Schools". Your copy is probably sitting waiting for you in that pile of brown envelopes you keep meaning to open - so let me whet your appetite.

No less than four academics, including two professors, have collaborated on this seminal work. And before you start complaining about money being wasted that could be going directly to schools, please note that this volume, er, booklet - well, pamphlet really - has been lavishly sponsored. By the Banking Information Service, Barclays Bank, Co-operative Bank, Ernst and Young, Esso, Forte, IBM, ICI, ICL, Midland Bank, Nestle UK Ltd, TSB Bank, Post office, J Sainsbury, University of Luton (Management Faculty), Vauxhall Motors Ltd and Whitbread. Impressed? Wait till you read it.

Or for those of you who ritually burn all DFE publications unread, let me summarise. I won't detain you long. It only runs to eight pages. Perhaps all those illustrious sponsors could only spare a flyer apiece. Times are hard.

"Extensive research," the good professors tell us, show that effective schools share the following characteristics: good leadership, a united well-trained staff, an atmosphere conducive to learning and intellectually challenging, good discipline, monitoring and teaching and a supportive home school partnership. Who would have thought it?

"The strength of the governing body lies in the collective knowledge, experience and expertise of its members".

We should provide a strategic view, focusing our limited time and resources on improving standards of teaching and learning. How? Well, pages 3 and 4, at the heart of this work, metaphorically and physically, tell us how, with reference to the Framework for the Inspection of Schools.

We should look at performance indicators: SATs results, attendance and exclusion figures, applications for admissions. Results should be analysed with reference to different age groups, gender and ethnic differences and for different curriculum areas. Comparisons should be made with the school's performance in previous years and with other similar schools. Added value is the aim.

The development plan is the key to raising standards, setting realistic and challenging targets and stating clearly the action to be taken in order to achieve them. We must, we are reminded, consider the budget implications of the plan.

The next section - well, page, actually - is on OFSTED inspections and suddenly all becomes clear. There are exact parallels between the roles defined here for the governing body and the process of inspection. Are we being prepared to pass the OFSTED test, or is the intention that we should act as inspectors for those schools they never get round to?

It is one view of the function of a governing body, but a limited one. It assumes a degree of Olympian detachment that few governors would recognise or aspire to; ignoring as it does the nitty-gritty of budgeting, staff appointments, health and safety, buildings maintenance and policy review which occupy us on a day-to-day basis.

One more attempt, one feels, to return governors to the watchdog role originally envisaged for us. Unfortunately, most of us went native long ago.

Page 6, ambitiously entitled "What makes an effective governing body", trots briskly and predictably through teamwork, good relations with the head, delegation of powers, effective meetings, visiting the school and training.

Page 7 suggests boldly that we refer back to the previous six and see how our school measures up, and page 8, which whimsically refers to itself as an annexe, summarises the legal status of governing bodies.

Very nicely printed in shades of orange and green. Well done, team.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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