Dalton's Diary

21st July 1995 at 01:00
I hold the Blue Peter Diploma for School Governorship. Like many thousands of my fellow governors, particularly in primary schools, I am a lifelong volunteer. We are the people who organise baby-sitting circles and toddler groups, sit on playgroup committees and PTAs, help out at Scouts and Rainbows, run the church fete and fill in our odd moments collecting door-to-door for lifeboats and Save the Children. We were probably prefects and milk monitors when we were at school.

"Just say No," my husband and children urge me, but I'm hooked: becoming a school governor was like the transition from an occasional recreational joint to a full-blown heroin habit.

What I am beginning to wonder is whether we have done more harm than good. We are used to shoe-string management, you see. Our reaction to underfunding is to organise a jumble sale or a Sixties disco. We collect W H Smith's and Tesco's vouchers. We recycle aluminium cans, and disintegrating library books. We believe there is scarcely any resourcing problem that cannot be solved given sufficient numbers of egg boxes.

We responded magnificently to the challenge of LMS. We put bricks in cisterns, devised schemes to save electricity and cut down on grounds maintenance by declaring that swampy bit a conservation area. We act as unpaid bursars, typists and classroom assistants. But we are beginning to realise that we have been conned. We were promised greater freedom to manage our own school's finances, only to find the amount we have to play with reduced year by year. And at last, we are starting to shout about it.

Some of us are also questioning whether this is a job for volunteers. We have been bombarded in the last year with circulars stating "Governors will ensure thatI", but not explaining how. As the job satisfaction of presiding over a disintegrating state system diminishes, should we also have to pay for the privilege?

Ask any governors who have been involved in a headship appointment or an OFSTED inspection - and I know of some schools that have experienced both in one term - and they will tell you that it is a time-consuming and expensive hobby. Governors can now be paid travelling expenses for attending meetings, but, as the whole point of governing bodies is that they should represent the local community, this is not terribly relevant. What we could do with is help with our baby-sitting expenses, loss of earnings and telephone bills.

I was increasingly being drawn to the idea that there should be some sort of allowance for governors on official business, formal meetings, disciplinary panels or appointments boards, rather as there is for local government councillors. The recent surge of governor protest, and the positive media response to it, has changed my mind. We are seen, quite rightly, as people with no axe to grind. Because we have no financial motive, we can speak for the children and the schools in a way that the professionals cannot. I believe politicians will have to listen if enough of us speak out. All we need now are people to co-ordinate the actionIany volunteers?

Joan Dalton is a governor in the East Midlands

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