Hold on tight for this year's ride
The French call their return to school after the summer la rentree. The English "re-entry" has its own, hitherto very different connotations. But what better way to describe the start of the new year for headteachers and governors than a headlong rush through an atmosphere where everything suddenly gets denser, hotter and more dangerous?
Approach the thickening air too slowly and the requirement to restructure the staff in a matter of weeks will bounce you back into outer space.
Approach it too fast and you could be burned up by the new inspection regime.
Then there are various orbiting bodies that could hole you if you do not pay attention. And as you approach the earth, the landscape looks different from before: new funding arrangements, school profiles, school improvement partners, the onward march of extended schools.
Restructuring the staff is an essential item for governing body agendas throughout the autumn. Schools in England have until December 31 to prepare for the end of management allowances and decide what posts will attract teaching and learning responsibilities. At the same time you should examine the whole staffing structure and be satisfied that you are making the best use of support staff so as to implement the workforce agreement fully. The key deadlines for all elements of this have now passed and schools that have not yet resolved all their difficulties will be expected to grapple with them this term.
Staff restructuring is not a simple paper exercise. The headteacher should consult the staff and relevant unions. Governors should be fully informed and involved, which will often mean setting up a special sub-committee or referring the work to one of the governing body's existing committees.
The shape of the new inspection framework will be familiar, but that does not mean the process itself is predictable. One third of schools in England schools expect a visit from the inspectors this year, and it could come at any time. Mercifully, those at risk have already been warned of the likelihood. Without familiar precedents to work to, governing bodies in the first tranche will be working out their own ways of ensuring that a suitable representative is available to meet the inspectors and to take the feedback at the end of the inspection.
All schools are affected by the new regime right from the start, because of the requirement for continual self-evaluation. Again, there is little guidance about how the governing body will participate in drawing up the self-evaluation form. What has been made clear, though, is that it is the governing body's responsibility.
Be prepared for the inevitable resignation from at least one member of staff. Appointments panels will have to have one person trained under a new online training course, which is being rolled out by region this term.
Normally, this can be the head, but a governor should be trained too, in case it is the head who is being replaced.
There are plenty of other things to include in your year's planning. The abolition of the annual parents' meeting and the replacement of the annual report by the school profile mean you need to think about how else you communicate with parents. School improvement partners are only in place in secondary schools in 27 local education authorities this year, but these should reveal to the rest of us how they will relate to governing bodies, especially on the head's performance management. Extending your school is becoming more of an imperative. Half of primaries and one third of secondaries are to offer extended services by 2008. This is the year schools need to decide the options that are right for them.
Come the spring and the financial planning process will be changing. The original idea was that from next April all schools would receive three-year budgets. But there are a lot of difficulties in implementing this, so instead we are to get budgets for two years ahead this year and next.
If all this seems as if the gravity of the educational environment is heavier this year, you might consider whether you should accept the Government's offer - already open to secondary schools and soon to be to primaries - to trade in your trusty but dented community-model vehicle for one of the new shiny, fast-track foundation marques. Possibly tempting, but we don't yet know for sure whether these will be adequately staffed, who will pilot them, and whether they will be designed to remain adequately in touch with home base.
Stephen Adamson is editor of The School Governors' Yearbook 2006, published in association with The TES (available from www.adamsonbooks.com)