How to mind George and influence people
Without any compulsory training and often without previous relevant experience we are required to appoint heads and determine their salaries, ensure that the national curriculum is delivered, set annual budgets, maintain health and safety standards, ensure that religious education is provided and that children with special needs are identified and catered for. We have responsibilities for child protection, admissions and exclusions, equal opportunities, staff disciplinary procedures and target-setting. We must establish and monitor policies covering every aspect of school life, visit the school regularly, attend meetings and report back to parents on an annual basis.
And that is only the official version. Unofficially we must also act as unpaid typists, accountants, painters and decorators, handypersons and Santa Claus. We must attend all performances, open evenings, workshops and sports days, contribute raffle prizes, buy raffle tickets and always graciously decline to accept anything we win. We must bake cakes for school fairs, man the white elephant stall and judge the fancy dress competition. Ability to play the piano, operate the video camera and drive a minibus are useful additional qualifications.
However, I do wonder if I am the only chair of governors who also child-minds the staff baby? I did volunteer for this, indeed I practically commissioned it, pointing out to a newly-married teacher some 18 months ago that I would have a vacancy this term when one of my charges started at the school. The resulting pregnancy, code named George, kept Year 6 enthralled. Their conscientious teacher stayed with her class until they had finished their SATs and arranged a rendezvous with them at the end of the first day of the autumn term, to display the baby and hear all about their initial impressions of secondary school.
I took charge of George at the beginning of the spring term. I have always minded for teachers, to keep the school holidays free for my husband and my own children, so the first few days of term when staff are back in school but the children are still on holiday can be hectic, as all my ex-minded children need a home to go to. George's mum has chosen to go back part-time, and her job-share partner also has two children who need occasional care. Nine children aged from 10 years to six months passed through at various times during the first couple of days of term, reminding me of one glorious occasion when I kept a similarly mixed age group enthralled by declaring it the cat's official birthday - presents, cards, cakes, candles, balloons, party games, the works. With a new baby to settle in, this time I gratefully let my own children take over the rest, including snow fights in the garden.
Every time I get a new baby, I find they have changed the instructions. The varied and contradictory edicts issued by health visitors over the past 25 years make education ministers seem quite rational. Eggs have been rehabilitated apparently, and oily fish is all the rage. Sardines. The cat thought it must be his birthday again.
Now we are back at school, I am beginning to realise what an asset I have acquired. It is just like being the royal nanny. Parents and staff who have previously treated me with reserve, if not suspicion, as an outsider, now rush up to greet me. As chair of governors I may not be universally popular; as George's minder, I am suddenly the centre of an admiring crowd. Not an option open to every chair, I realise. perhaps a really cute puppy would have the same effect.