Governors voice structural criticism

17th October 1997 at 01:00
The period of consultation on the Blair Government's first wave of reforms has officially ended. TES staff report on the responses of the education world to the proposed changes with their emphasis on standards and structures.

School governors - charged by ministers to raise standards in the classroom - are concerned about the Government's plan to create three new types of schools.

They believe proposals for community, aided and foundation schools will be disruptive and achieve little except dissatisfaction.

The National Governors' Council said in its response to the Government's White Paper that there was a belief that school structures did matter, despite the Government rhetoric about standards.

One result of the changes will be to shift most of the former grant-maintained schools into the foundation category. The council told ministers: "A substantial majority of our associations feel that these proposals, which affect more than 24,000 schools, have been drafted to change the status of just more than 1,000."

The council's response to the White Paper is based on its most extensive consultation exercise ever - a survey of its 60 member associations and a governor contact in every local authority.

Its unhappiness over the new structure may alarm ministers, because governors will be at the heart of the debate in schools about which category to choose. Moreover, they have no particular axe to grind, political or otherwise, and claim to be speaking from a purely practical perspective.

Governors could find themselves increasingly at odds with parents if the two groups do not agree on the future status of their school.

The Government will tell schools which category it expects them to adopt, but governors will still want to discuss the change, said the council. "This will ensure a focus on structures rather than standards over an extended period of time."

Many governors told the council that they wanted current structures to be retained with the 1,118 opted-out schools returned to their previous category.

Some suggested that if new categories had to be created then just two - community and aided - were necessary.

"All our respondents are quite certain that these proposals, as they stand, will generate considerable debate and raise difficulties for some schools, " said the NGC.

"We can only voice our deep concern that in practice these proposals . .. will generate considerable disruption and achieve little except dissatisfaction. "

Ministers have told governors that their main function now is to help raise standards and they must put in place an effective strategic plan with targets.

The council in turn said that if governors were to be effective, they needed to be kept informed by their local authority and headteacher and to have a voice in decision-making.

Governors wanted membership of council education committees and more access to Office for Standards in Education evidence to help them draw up their plans.

"There seems to be a mismatch between the length of time taken to inspect the school and length of time taken to brief the governors. Many governors find themselves with little upon which to base their action plans."

The council warned that heads sometimes needed to be asked difficult questions about standards and said that governors often received too little information about the head's performance.

Clare Dean

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