A long-AWAITED telephone helpline for Britain's 370,000 volunteer school governors was launched this week, writes Karen Thornton.
Schools minister Jacqui Smith said the new service was one of several support measures aimed at helping governors play a central and strategic role in raising standards. The Department for Education and Employment will fund the line at a cost of pound;165,000 a year.
Ms Smith said: "Governors are at the centre of the standards raising agenda. We don't think GovernorLine is important because governors face problems. It's important because it's good practice for governors to get access to impartial, expert advice."
Developed by the two major groups representing governors - the National Governors' Council and the National Association of Governors and Managers - the line is being run by the Teachers' Benevolent Fund, already responsible for a similar service for teachers.
The free, seven-days-a-week helpline offers advice from experienced governors as well as expertise in legal, employment and health and safety matters. Its managers are expecting 5,000 calls in the first year.
NGC chairwoman Chris Gale said: "Advice has been hard to come by, particularly at weekends and evenings when most governing bodies meet. It means decisions that might have been deferred can be made more quickly."
The advice organisation, Information for School and College Governors, plans to continue with its on advice line, despite the loss of DFEE grant, but it also has a representative on the new service's management board.
GovernorLine 08000 722 181, open 9am to 10pm weekdays (except bank holidays) and 11am to 4pm weekends. ISCG governor advice line 020 7229 0200.
See next week's TES for minister Jacqui Smith's response to criticisms of government plans to reform governing bodies
REAL-LIFE AGA SAGAS
Roger Adcock, 73, has been providing a shoulder to cry on for fellow governors for around four years, and says he could write an "Aga saga" based on his experiences.
The retired headteacher and teacher- training college principal is one of dozens of volunteers who have kept the National Governors' Council's helpline going in the absence of an official national helpline.
He will now be working for the new service, but is not expecting the nature of the calls to change. Queries on performance management, or appointing a headteacher, top the charts at the moment - but support and reassurance is also a key part of the job.
"What you are doing is helping governors talk through what's bugging them and to come to a decision on how to deal with it.
"There are a lot of personal relationships that then impinge on the operation of the school and the governing body, particularly if a governor is related to a member of staff.
"One could write a Joanna Trollope novel about these things," he adds.