Governors' limitations could see autonomy push 'lead to failure'

22nd October 2010 at 01:00
Chief executive of their lobby group calls for more training as not all are 'up to the job'

The Government's push for more school autonomy could lead to "increasing failure" because not all school governors are "up to the job", their own lobby group has said.

Emma Knights, National Governors Association chief executive, believes the Government may have underestimated the complexity of governors' role.

Writing in Take Heed, Mr Gove, a new book of articles offering advice to the Education Secretary, she calls on him to invest more in governor training and to provide them with clerks who can help administration and provide legal advice.

"The whole thrust of giving schools more autonomy relies on governing bodies being effective," she writes. "If (they) are not up to the job, then increasing school autonomy could lead to increasing failure."

Ms Knight goes on to quote Ofsted, which reported that although governors were increasingly holding schools to account, "this is not consistently the case and not all governors are fully involved in shaping their school's strategic direction or in evaluating school performance".

She notes that the watchdog added: "In inadequate schools, governors are often ill-informed about the school's performance and do not provide sufficient challenge."

There is no "crisis" in state school governance, Ms Knight stresses. But she cautions: "Our model of governance needs to cope with the challenges that more freedoms will bring."

Getting rid of bureaucracy will not necessarily help, she adds, giving the example of the abolition of standard school self-evaluation forms. The change could simply lead to every school needing the help of consultants to develop their own forms from scratch, Ms Knight claims.

Writing in the same book, John Freeman, a former president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, argues that the market in places in autonomous schools, envisaged by the Coalition, will not be quick enough to meet need. He says a role needs to remain for local government in managing this market.

Ms Knight writes that local authorities are "best placed" to hold governing bodies to account for the performance of autonomous schools, but says the vision of academy status being the norm will not become reality if governors decide they do not want the extra responsibility.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said autonomy was "a crucial ingredient of success". The recent National Audit Office report on academies found "the large majority" were confident their governing bodies had appropriate skills, she said.

Take Heed, Mr Gove is published by Iris Press (

Waters wades in

'Make schools part-time after 14' says ex-National Curriculum head

The man formerly responsible for the national curriculum has suggested ministers consider ending it when pupils reach 14, and making schools part-time afterwards.

Mick Waters, who finished a four-year stint as the Qualifications and Curriculum Agency director of curriculum in 2009, said: "If examinations matter so much, surrender the post-14 phase to their achievement. Let post-14 be part-time beyond a minimum attendance, with schools and other agencies free to offer recreation, sport, health, personal survival, gardening and expeditions."

He also uses his chapter in Take Heed, Mr Gove to suggest that the Education Secretary could extend the primary phase until the age of 13 and spread the exam season across the academic year.

On curriculum reform, Professor Waters writes: "There is concern that years of evidence gathering, consultation and engagement ... undertaken through independent reviews (is) being dismissed. To ignore this represents intellectual vandalism."

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