Dalton's Diary

17th March 1995 at 00:00
Two fascinating documents arrived by the same post. The first was the NFER publication School Governing Bodies - Making Progress by Peter Earley. Based on information from questionnaires sent to 500 heads, chairs and governors, and on a smaller sample of detailed case studies, it analyses the composition of governing bodies, relationships with heads, training, the extent and nature of their responsibilities and how effective they are.

Statistics fascinate me. A computer at our local science park invites visitors to feed in information about themselves, compares them with previous visitors and sorts them into progressively smaller subsets, according to sex, colouring, etc. My children try to achieve uniqueness by feeding in details of a bald, ambidextrous female with green eyes and no sense of smell. The computer is not impressed. It has seen 17 of those already this month.

But according to Peter Earley, as a female chair of governors, under 60, with no child at the school, without teaching qualifications or a degree and employed in unskilled manual work - I am a childminder - I finally make it as a subset of one.

The variations in practice explored in the book are wide - one governing body meeting twice a year, another clocking up 25, and respondents tend to accept the own modus operandi as a norm.

The factor most of those surveyed identified as limiting governor effectiveness was lack of time, so it is perhaps unreasonable to expect governing bodies to add to their workload the appraisal, monitoring and improvement of their own effectiveness. They tend to succeed in their own terms, conducting and attending meetings, producing annual reports, approving policies, but how many fulfil this report's criterion of success: "making a contribution, direct or indirect, to improving the teaching and learning process".

The subtitle of the report , "Making Progress", presupposes a developmental ethos which most governing bodies would not recognise. Established governors are too busy and new appointees too diffident to stand back from the pressures of meetings, committees and brown envelopes to ask the question, "What value do we add to the school". If the answer is very little, then the management time spent servicing the governors is wasted.

In Heads and governors - building the partnership, Joan Sallis places the responsibility of developing the governors as a resource for the school, rather than a burden on it, squarely on headteachers. This suggests a degree of malleability amongst governors which does not match with my own experience. And for governors or head to instigate radical changes in the way the governing body operates needs a great deal of tact if it is not to be seen as a criticism of "the way we've always done it". Many respondents mentioned trust and mutual respect as vital to a successful partnership, which is difficult to manufacture if it does not arise naturally.

Nevertheless, I finished Peter Earley's book determined to see us from now on as part of the education process, rather than, as many heads suggested, best suited to dealing with grounds maintenance and health and safety.

And the other fascinating document? Administrative memorandum 50 - "The School Inventory". Guess who is responsible? And I have no idea how many Ladders (State Length and Type) we possess.

School Governing Bodies - Making Progress, by Peter Earley (NFER), Pounds 10. Heads and governors - building the partnership (AGIT, Lyng Hall, Blackberry Lane, Coventry, CV2 3JS) Pounds 7.50

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