Exploiting the inside source

17th March 2000 at 00:00
Teacher-governors could be the link to improving relations between staff and governors.

Michael Creese and Peter Earley discuss findings of their recent survey

WE HAVE recently completed the first national survey of teacher-governors from nearly 500 schools. From the results we can draw up a portrait of a typical teacher-governor and how she - most are female - is carrying out the role.

The typical teacher-governor is an experienced full-time teacher, holding a position of responsibility within the school. She has been a governor for less than four years and has no other experience of school governance. She may have received some induction training for the role but is very unlikely to have undertaken any governor training since.

Why do teachers become governors? There were a variety of reasons, but teachers stood mainly because they were interested in the work of the governing body or because they had been asked to by their colleagues. Others saw it as useful staff development and preparation for promotion, and about one in six said it was because nobody else had wanted the job.

Most teacher-governors saw themselves as representing colleagues' views on the governing body, or acting as a link between staff and governors. Very few met with colleagues before governors' meetings to discuss agenda items, instead gathering their views informally. But around a third did talk to their headteachers before meetings, but again on an informal basis. After meetings, a fifth reported back to colleagues via staff meetings, and one in 10 did so in writing. Most relied on informal methods.

The good news is that the vast majority felt able to play a full and equal part in the work of their governing body. Nearly all teacher-governors were members of committees, usually curriculum committees, and most felt their contributions were valued by their fellow governors. But about one in eight felt other board members perceived them as "second class" governors.

A fifth said they were often excluded, directly or indirectly, from the discussion of certain issues, most commonly personnel, finance and salary matters. One in four reported feeling inhibited at meetings by the presence of the headteacher, and a fifth felt unable to express the views of teacher colleagues freely and honestly.

In particular, the majority of teacher-governors lacked confidence in decisions on heads' and deputies' pay.

We found that many of our respondents and their staffroom colleagues were uncertain about the teacher-governor's role. Yet despite this uncertainty, lack of experience of governance, and lack of training, many teaher- governors can and do make a very important contribution to their governing bodies - especially through their knowledge of education and by making governors aware of staff views.

However, there has to be an atmosphere on the governing body conducive to this. It is worrying that so many teacher-governors were inhibited by the presence of the headteacher and felt unable to express freely the views of teachers in full

governing meetings.

Teacher-governors said other teachers' views of the governing body were mixed. They estimated that more than half of the teachers were not particularly interested in the work of governors, although two-thirds were said to welcome the involvement of governors in their schools. However, about a fifth of teacher-governors felt that their teaching colleagues resented what they saw as interference by the governing body.

This raises concerns about the state of relationships between governors and staff. Good relationships are vital if the governing body is to be effective. The teacher-governors surveyed commented very positively on governors who were actively involved in their schools. Such governors were known to pupils and staff and made the governing body seem less remote from the school itself.

Could teacher-governors perhaps do more to foster partnerships between governors and staff? Making staff more aware of the role of the governing body and the content of their discussions would be one way of doing this. Teacher-governors are in an excellent position to encourage lay governors to visit their schools and can help with introductions to colleagues. They are also in a good position to contribute to the planning and delivery of whole governing body training - something which recent research suggests is particularly useful in promoting effectiveness.

Overall, it appears that, although crucial to the effectiveness of governing bodies, the role of teacher-governor is underdeveloped in many schools. Headteachers could help by encouraging their teacher-governors to contribute more fully to the work of the governing body. They should see teacher governors not as a threat but as valuable allies in explaining the work of the school to their lay colleagues.

Our own research has shown that governing bodies have an important contribution to make to school improvement and teacher governors must play a full part in this.

Michael Creese and Peter Earley are the authors of "Improving Schools and Governing Bodies: Making a

Difference" (Routledge). They will be presenting their findings at the BEMAS research conference in

Cambridge, March 29-31.

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