Governing bodies should have a bigger say in the running of their LEA, says the National Governors Council. Bob Doe reports.
Governors must have a stronger voice in local education decision-making, the National Governors Council has told the Government. That means two governors on council education committees, stronger rights to be informed and consulted and an opportunity to comment on the effectiveness of local education authorities when they are being inspected by the Office for Standards in Education.
In order to respond to the reforms proposed in the White Paper, Excellence in Schools, the National Governors Council conducted its widest-ever consultation of its members. In its formal response, it welcomes the Government's focus on standards and achievement for all but suggests a number of practical improvements.
Partnership between governing bodies and local authorities will remain a "cosy illusion" unless authorities involve governors in the earliest stages of policy-making and develop "a mature working relationship" with governing bodies.
"Given the extent to which local authority budgets are delegated to school governing bodies, the extensive legal responsibilities placed on governing bodies - including standards and staffing and the commitment in the White Paper that governors should be involved in policy - we believe that governing bodies through their local associations should be represented on education committees with voting rights as of right. We can see no possible justification for establishing voting parental representation unless governing body representation is established at the same time."
The council suggests instead that local governor associations nominate at least two voting governor representatives to every education committee, at least one of whom should be a governor with a child attending a school in the local authority.
"If we are to be effective we need information, effective consultation and a voice in decision-making. This means local authorities and headteachers must be obliged to inform effectively so that in cases of default governors are not left powerless to act."
The appointment of local authority governors had caused concern for some time. The NGC wants a code of practice which forces authorities to publish appointment criteria and provides alternative appointments when authorities fail to provide governors.
References in the White Paper to performance information needed by "schools" were uphelpful. Legislation and guidance needed to distinguish between information for headteachers - and that which heads and local authorities must provide to governing bodies in order to enable them to perform their strategic role.
There should be a requirement to consult governing bodies properly over the education development plans local authorities were required to draw up. And to make authorities more accountable - "the views of governing bodies on the effectiveness of the authority, and the quality of support provided by it, must be seriously considered in the (OFSTED) inspection process".
Governors also want OFSTED to take some of its own accountability medicine. "In particular there is a need to make public the mechanisms used both to identify poor inspection teams and to deal with the consequences for schools of the work of poor inspection teams. Governors have noted unacceptable variations in the quality of inspection teams."
The NGC is "strongly opposed" to proposals from the Local Government Association to give councillors and others outside the school a role in appointing heads. It is emphatic that "governing bodies, with their knowledge of the school and its circumstances, need professional advice from the chief education officer".
Better headteacher appraisal should play a significant role in raising standards, the NGC says, and governing bodies needed to be more involved in the process and to be informed of the outcomes.
"Governing bodies receive frequent reminders about the key role of headteachers . . . but in practice they receive little or no information about the performance of their own headteacher.
"If governing bodies are to be able to answer the question, 'How well is our school doing and how good are the staff', we need information about appraisal outcomes as of right. This is particularly important if there is cause for concern about a headteacher."
FUNDING MUST NOT BE FUDGED
Every response to the National Governors Council consultation mentioned school funding. "Governing bodies are clear that the issue must not be fudged, " the council says in its own response to the Government.
The present system of funding was flawed and produced unacceptable disparities between areas and ages. Increases recently announced by the Government were welcome but would simply enable schools to mark time. Inflation or wage settlements could mean schools would soon be unable to pay their bills again.
"If governors are to plan school improvements on a long-term basis, they need budget security." Recent "efficiency savings" had meant real cuts making it increasingly difficult to maintain or improve standards or deliver the national curriculum.
The council welcomed many of the White Paper's proposals but,without costing and additional funding, many of them would not happen in the schools where they were needed most.
Governors are also concerned that local authorities will hold on to greater sums from school budgets in order to meet their additional responsibilities.
The suggestion that schools would receive 100 per cent delegation was likely to lead to confusion and suspicion; 100 per cent of a smaller figure was sleight of hand rather than the greater transparency of funding the White Paper spoke of.