Duty bound

12th May 1995 at 01:00
GOVERNORS' HANDBOOK, The Advisory Centre for Education, Pounds 9 inc p and p from 1B Aberdeen Studios, 22 Highbury Grove, London N5 2DQ. GOVERNORS' HANDBOOK, Socialist Educational Association, Pounds 6 inc p and p from 110 Humberstone Road, London E13 9NJ.

Lindy Hardcastle on the long and the short of governors' guides.

The Advisory Centre for Education handbook describes itself as a comprehensive guide to the duties and responsibilities of school governors and it provides an extraordinarily detailed summary of current legislation and good practice in fewer than a hundred pages.

It is compiled from separate ACE information sheets, and the difference in style and approach between chapters reflects the varying authorship and subject matter. The chapter on bullying, for example, is a discussion of the causes of bullying and practical suggestions for countering it, whereas the chapter on school government bristles with references to legislation.

The very thoroughness and density of information in this book make it unsuitable for reading at a sitting, especially by a new governor. Reading lists at the end of each section recommending up to 23 publications would daunt the most intrepid volunteer. The final paper - a glossary of educational terms - might be the best place for the absolute beginner to start.

But this book should be invaluable to governors and clerks as a work of reference. It is clearly set out with plenty of sub-headings and an excellent index. Each of the sections would form an excellent briefing paper to be read in advance of policy-making or review, or as the basis for a workshop discussion.

The Socialist Educational Association governors' handbook is much more limited in scope, restricting itself to the appointment of governors, conduct of meetings, local management, special needs and - in a brief but challenging paper - equal opportunities. The tone is different, as the SEA seeks to explore not only how governing bodies currently function, but how they should change and develop.

Many of its suggestions seem curiously narrow and restrictive, limiting the involvement of the governors in the life of the school and educational debate, and resurrecting the barriers many of us have been working to break down.

We are instructed that meetings should last no longer than two hours, discussion of the head's report (four sides of A4 maximum) should be restricted to 10 minutes, proposals on policies and responses to consultation papers should be written by the head and circulated for approval before the meeting, and sub-committees should be avoided at all costs. Governors are warned against the pitfalls of internal promotions, of becoming too involved in the administration of the school and too quick to spring to its defence.

Local authority governors, we are told, are not in office "merely" to support the school, but to represent the views of their party and the LEA that appointed them. Regular nominees' briefings should be held by the political parties, at which, we are helpfully reminded, light refreshments should be provided.

The SEA guide is sufficiently up-to-date to cover the development of the National Governors' Council and related county associations, but asserts that schools' representatives should not be council employees - especially teachers - without distinguishing between teacher governors and governors who also happen to be teachers. As a Labour party-nominated LEA governor, I found this guide limiting and divisive in its view of my role.

Lindy Hardcastle is a governor in the Midlands.

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