Dear Ted

17th October 2003 at 01:00
I've been a governor for three years and now realise that the increasing workload and responsibility is the Government's way to shift blame if things go wrong. Am I cynical?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

What took you so long? Of course governors can easily be scapegoated. That is why the school standards minister, Stephen Twigg, wrote his notorious letter last January haranguing them to ensure their schools met their targets. They are also in the front line during an Ofsted inspection, which is, effectively, the Government's police force.

You must never lose sight, however, of the main purpose of what you do.

Governors are the voice of the community. Schools cannot exist in a vacuum and a good governing body, consisting of parents, staff and local people, is there to bind a school to its great social purpose. Never underestimate the importance of doing that well, even when you feel cynical.

That said, governors are often lay people in education, not experts or employees. Many have demanding jobs and family commitments. They should not be asked to do more than is proper, but nowadays they are overburdened with petty responsibilities that consume time and energy. You only have to look at a typical pile of papers for a meeting to see how far this has all gone.

Every governing body in the land should complain, so that something is done.

Governors are part-time volunteers who should not have to spend more than a few hours a year on their task, yet they are programmed as if they are full-time professional officers.

Concentrate on the essence of the job: making sure the school provides a decent programme for the children. Create and sustain harmony within the school, and between it and your community. All else should get short shrift during your meetings. If you still have a copy, pin Stephen Twigg's letter on a wall and throw darts at it. It won't alter anything, but you might feel better.

You say

We do it for the children's sake

I have been a governor for around four years, and the centrally produced volume of paper never ceases to amaze me. I console myself with the knowledge that any modest discomfort I feel pales into insignificance when set against the demands and expectations made of the headteacher and her colleagues. Although on a bad day it might seem that we are the fall guys, so be it. Our support, if genuine, constructive and unintrusive, will be appreciated by the school. If our children enjoy a better education as a result, then all the more reason to remain committed. And if we can't stand the heat, we can always get out of the kitchen. Face it: we don't do it for the money.

Brian Ferguson, email

Twenty years of exploitation

Of course governors are being exploited. I have been one for more than 20 years and my role is now much more demanding. Although we're volunteers, we're legally required to be responsible for delivery of the curriculum; each governor is given at least one area for which he or she is "responsible". It's time to revert to being a critical friend to the headteacher.

Julia Matthews, Bexleyheath

Something's got to give

Governing bodies have huge responsibilities for finance, premises and personnel matters, to say nothing of standards and the curriculum. Surely these responsibilities should be carried out by properly qualified accountants, surveyors and personnel officers. To give these responsibilities to a bunch of amateur, unpaid, part-time volunteers seems a recipe for disaster. But somehow it works - more or less. However, it is creaking at the seams and the strains are showing; witness the Government's concern that the appraisal of headteachers is less consistent and, in many cases, less rigorous than it should be. They have even suggested greater LEA involvement, after years of trying to marginalise LEAs and dump most of their responsibilities on governors.

Dennis Fox, email

Cynicism helps

You can never be too cynical where this government is concerned. Have you not been following the Hutton inquiry?

Gill Tweed, south London

Coming up: Can middle-agers ever return?

"I'm 53 and desperate to return to teaching, but it's impossible as I am on the upper pay scale plus threshold. Have budget cuts made post-threshold middle-agers unemployable?" What do readers think? Email

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