Tomorrow the new National Governors' Council is expected to be inaugurated in Birmingham (see page 8). The idea is to create a powerful national voice for 350,000 school governors. A vast array of responsibilities now rest on governing bodies' shoulders and there is wide agreement that more effective means must be found to listen to their concerns at both a national and local level.
The natural reaction must be, then, to wish the new venture well. But will the new council, perched on top of an incomplete pyramid of local associations established to deal with local issues, ever be able to develop the authority to speak for all governors? Will it even be able to provide the inspiration and practical help needed to complete the necessary network of independent local associations?
The emerging council has been fortunate to find the urbane, skilful and committed Simon Goodenough to chair its proceedings. If anyone can make a go of it, he can. But so far the other signs are not so good. The fundamental problem is that most governors are already hard put to it to meet the demands of their schools without taking on another round of meetings and committees.
Consequently, many of the local governors' groups that sprang up spontaneously in response to single issues may prove short-lived. Other governor forums are to varying degrees creatures of local authorities, which have also recognised the practical need to consult governors. These may enjoy the administrative support needed to sustain them but they are unlikely to meet the independence or democratic criteria laid down by the governors' council; nor are there any firmer guarantees that governors will turn up at their meetings.
If governors are dubious about devoting their time to matters not directly related to their school, they will be doubly doubtful about finding money to fund the NGC or to send delegates to its meetings, particularly as there do not seem to be any tangible benefits to individual governing bodies. They may ask how representative are those able or inclined to get involved in governor politics at a national level.
It is unfortunate, too, that the steering group setting up the new council failed to reach a rapprochement with the National Association of Governors and Managers which already claims to speak for 40,000 governors. Hostility on both sides led to a fruitless stand-off. The result is that a real opportunity has been lost; both organisations will suffer and governors will be poorer served.
It was clear that NAGM had conspicuously failed to make the necessary breakthrough in individual memberships or branches to claim the authority to represent governors nationally or locally. It should have seen in the new council an opportunity to harness the fresh blood in the local associations that were springing up, and feed in its own experience.
The national council's steering group ignored the clear wish of those who set it up that NAGM should be closely involved. As a result it has cut the new council off from NAGM's support, which could have provided not only an incentive to governing bodies to join the new network but also greater insight into what is really bothering governing bodies. Formal resolutions that make their way up to national council meetings do not necessarily tell the whole story.