Governors tackle an unenviable challenge

31st March 2000 at 01:00
Growing evidence suggests that governing bodies have been struggling to meet the challenge of setting performance-related targets for headteachers.

Since last year, there has been a statutory duty on governing bodies to set attainment targets for heads and deputy heads relating to school leadership, management and pupils' progress. Governors are also required to appraise heads' and deputies' performance against their success in attaining these goals and to set their pay accordingly.

John Adams, chairman of the National Association of Governors and Managers, which represents some 40,000 governors in England and Wales, says: "By and large governing bodies are finding it quite challenging. To some extent, it is not desperately clear what the targets should involve.

"Targets are supposed to be challenging but realistic. They are supposed to be set in the context of the school development plan which is, in turn, set in the context of the local authority plan. I think that is really quite a subtle exercise and chairs of governing bodies have no training to do that.

"Most of the people I speak to have set targets, but I think they have all struggled. If you are chair of a little primary school and perhaps have had no background in this sort of activity, it is quite new and less apparent what you do."

The situation is causing some obvious concern for heads too. Bob Carstairs, of the National Association of Head Teachers, says that sometimes governors do not read the official guidance circulars on target setting and, therefore, do not know what they were supposed to do.

Some governors, he says, are also unwilling to set performance criteria for heads because they do not feel qualified to set targets for people better qualified academically than they are and possibly earning more.

Sometimes, he says, governors in leafy suburbs on pound;100,000 a year are so horrified when they discover what heads earn that they see any attempt to set criteria as being unduly limiting of heads' earning powers.

In an attempt to assist governors last September, the Department for Education and Employment issued a guidance document (see story, right). And from September this year, all schools can consult independent external advisers who will help them to review the school's success in meeting past attainmet targets and to set new objectives.

In the summer, the department is to provide national training for governors to equip them to agree school performance policies and assist them in reviewing heads' performance. But many governors feel there has been insufficient guidance on setting performance targets.

Eleanor Wright is a governor at Chase Bridge Primary school in Twickenham, south-west London. She thinks the DFEE guidance is heavily weighted towards achieving academic targets, and these are reasonably easy to measure. For example, you could say you will achieve 80 per cent in level 4 national tests at the age of 11.

However, she points out, some schools are already achieving 100 per cent, so it is difficult for them to achieve better. In this example, they could start targeting level 5, but asks is it wise to demand that of 11-year-olds?

She also wonders whether governors should be assessing other areas, such as a greater use of computers, creative work and playground discipline. The problem is how to do so.

"This emphasis on having a measurable target does mean that you are forced to go for fairly silly things, such as having recruited another playground supervisor. This, however, is measuring the means and not the end."

At Victoria infant and nursery school in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, the governors are waiting for an external adviser to help them review their tentative steps in setting performance targets. Ian Moore, a parent governor, says: "We have certainly found it very difficult over the past two years to set criteria which would meet the purpose of the government legislation.

"As far as I see it, we should not be paying extra money to the headteacher for doing her job. We should be setting criteria which are over and above what she would normally get paid to do. It's very difficult to identify criteria which satisfy that requirement because if a particular task has to be done in school within the school year, it would be part of either the school development plan or school management plan anyway."

So far the governors have based targets for the head on these two plans. "We are not 100 per cent happy with this," he says, "but feel this will do just now until the external validator comes in and confirms whether what we are doing is correct or not."

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