Decade of dedication

6th May 2005 at 01:00
As Governors Wales reaches its 10th birthday, Colin Thomas looks back at what has been achieved

Governors Wales celebrates its 10th anniversary this month. In those 10 years, the pace of change in schools has continued unabated, some would say it has accelerated.

Even the least cynical governor will have had occasion to ponder on the usefulness of some of the many government initiatives with which they have had to grapple.

It is, perhaps, too easy for the decision-makers in our democracy to forget that ultimately even the best thought-through initiatives for the development of schools are dependent for their success not only upon the work of professional headteachers, teachers and support staff, but upon the work of unpaid volunteers.

So, as governors, we hold the burden of statutory responsibility for implementing government policies for schools and are accountable to parents and other local people for the standards of the school and success of those policies. School governors are highly unusual as a body of volunteers which discharges statutory responsibilities.

This model of public accountability has particular characteristics and presents peculiar challenges. There are some 26,000 school governors in Wales. But the individuals that comprise that total are constantly changing as they come to the end of their four-year term of office or, for other reasons, cease to be governors and are replaced.

Not only is the body of governors in constant renewal, but also the body of policies and initiatives that applies to schools in Wales is in a constant state of change. Policies come and (some at least) go, as political policies and priorities change.

In Wales, some Westminster-inspired ideas for schools have foundered, and the minister for education and lifelong learning, Jane Davidson, is leading the Assembly towards policies that are distinctly Welsh and tuned to the needs and culture of Wales.

So the publication of league tables comparing the performance of schools is a thing of the past, as are national curriculum tests at key stage 1, while KS2 and KS3 tests are being phased out.

There are no specialist schools in Wales, and the Conservative government's grant-maintained schools initiative received minimal support here. Other developments, inspired by the standards agenda, have taken root, such as the reduction in infant class sizes and the introduction of performance management.

In a climate of seemingly perpetual change, it is understandable that some governors will complain that the burden of responsibility and the amount of time necessary for a volunteer to commit to the tasks of school governance is simply too great.

In England, this has prompted the "Way Forward Group" to propose that some governing body responsibilities should revert to headteachers or the local education authority.

However, Governors Wales believes that reducing the importance of the tasks of governors by stripping away those of greatest significance is a mistaken and inappropriate response to the challenges of governance, governor esteem and governor recruitment.

As Governors Wales reaches the 10th anniversary of its foundation, the developing range of its services suggest that during the 10 years to come, the rate of change in the duties and responsibility of governors will be maintained. This assumes, however, that the central purpose of governors, which has been a consistent thread in the successive reform of school governance since 1988, will remain. That is, that of the accountability of governors to parents and the local community for the conduct and standards of the school.

Governors Wales will continue to strive to respond, providing the support that the largest volunteer force in Wales deserves. In the coming months and years, we will be applying ourselves to the next series of challenges.

These include:

* the implementation of governance regulations and guidance arising from the 2002 Education Act (yet to be published in Wales);

* reform of the 14-19 curriculum;

* the introduction of national qualifications as a requirement for first time heads;

* implementation of the workforce reforms;

* development of the Welsh baccalaureate;

* providing free breakfasts in primary schools;

* the development of extended schools.

All of this and more is set in the context of continuous efforts to improve pupil achievement and the effectiveness of schools in Wales. The need for effective governor training has never been greater but nor has the need for governors to regard participation in training as both a right and an obligation designed to make their work both more effective and personally rewarding.

Governors Wales looks forward to continuing to support, influence and promote the work of effective governance.

Colin Thomas is director of Governors Wales

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