Death is not the end ...

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Regrets over the recent demise of the governor training network, Action for Governors' Information and Training, are fast being superseded by hopes that a new national organisation will rise from its ashes.

The network, established in 1987 to help local education authorities prepare governors for their expanding responsibilities, announced just before Christmas that it was to fold due to a lack of funds.

The Department for Education and Employment has now revealed that this collapse came in spite of the fact that a #163;34,000 grant designed to help save the body had been mistakenly paid twice: the DFEE has no plans to recover the overpayment.

A widespread agreement seems to be emerging that, financial confusion apart, the network as it stood may have come to the end of its natural life and it is time for a new and more vigorous body to take its place. Even AGIT insiders are shedding few tears.

Jane Martin, still chair of AGIT as it winds itself down, says: "We became a victim of our own success. We trained local authority trainers and they matured and became more confident so had less need for our training."But in some parts of the country, training is still very poor, and in others it's non-existent - in spite of the fact that the Government is putting governors right at the heart of school improvement.

"The needs of governor training have changed, and what they need now is a very different kind of organisation which will better serve those needs."To that end, even amid its own death throes it is lobbying the DFEE to help create a replacement. For now, at least, the DFEE is making encouraging noises. A spokesman for the department confirms that Stephen Byers, the schools minister, has instructed officials to discuss with interested parties future support for governor training, and to report back with possible options.

There is a growing view that these ought to include compulsory induction training for all governors. And defining that might even require what amounts to a national curriculum for governors. There have even been suggestions that governors may earn qualifications for their training and development.Satisfying all interested parties may be difficult: training even hard-working and dedicated governors can be a tough job.

Janet Sheriton heads Hampshire County Council's award-winning governor support service, and even though she has nine years' experience, 16 staff, and a well-established training programme getting the message across can be an uphill struggle.

"We once put on a course called `Catering for the more able pupil'," says Dr Sheriton. "We had a governor who turned up, and sat through it very politely - but on his evaluation form at the end said he was disappointed with the course, because he was very interested in cooking."

Hampshire alone has up to 1,000 new governors a year, says Dr Sheriton, and it is vital to provide training which disabuses them of any notion that they should be marching into classrooms clutching clip-boards and check lists. Local authorities which only have a one-man band operating training are sorely in need of assistance, she says.

Pat Petch, chair of the National Governors' Council, which encompasses some 60 local governing body associations from around Britain, agrees - as a matter of urgency.

"Unfortunately AGIT has gone just when David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, has earmarked #163;5million for governor training," she says. "We'd like to ensure that we have quality governor training in all parts of the country, and for that we need a strong network for governor trainers."

A voice of dissent comes from Ian Rule, secretary of the National Association of Governors and Managers, the membership of which covers about 10 per cent of the 340,000 governors in England and Wales. He suggests that AGIT needs no replacement: NAGM and the NGC can cater for any needs not satisfied by local authorities, he says.

The national association has long provided briefing papers for governors on various issues and the council issued an induction pack for new governors. Both operate a governor telephone helpline service.

The Community Education development centre in Coventry which once housed AGIT, plans to launch a publication of its own called Governors' Agenda. It will be aimed at governors and those responsible for their training. This will be supported by bi-monthly briefings for governor trainers and conference planning services for local authorities.

But others echo calls for a new national body.

Felicity Taylor, a co-director of the independent Institute for School and College Governors, a non-profit making company, says: "There should be some sort of successor body to AGIT with a very clear focus on providing training, support, and ideas for governor co-ordinators.

"We will be raising the question of compulsory training for governors," says David Hart. general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers "They're going to have wider powers under the Education Bill, and I believe we should not rely on the quality of training provided by local authorities, which has been extremely patchy. There's a very strong case for a national body"

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