How's it been for you?

20th June 1997 at 01:00
So what, as governors, do we think of it so far - education under new Labour? Well, failing to sack Chris Woodhead was clearly a missed opportunity. Admittedly it would have been a cheap, vindictive, come-the revolution gesture, but it would have brought a great deal of simple pleasure to thousands of people. The Department for Education and Employment could even have held a competition amongst heads of failing schools to find the most suitable future employment for him.

Come to think of it, perhaps they did, and the bright spark who suggested manacling him to Tim Brighouse for the rest of his contract won first prize. Was it the same wicked ironist who proposed setting Ted Wragg to hunt down the notorious 15,000 bad teachers. At least they will leave giggling.

There was, however, a serious sense of humour failure on the part of whoever came up with the phrase "help squads" for failing schools. It has a chilling 1984 newspeak quality about it, straight from the Ministry of Truth. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Of course, we are all well aware of the hidden agenda here. There is an excusable reluctance on the part of Messrs Blair and Blunkett to be seen to be going soft on standards. Just so long as "tough on failure" is to be followed swiftly by "tough on the causes of failure".

A massive programme of building repairs and better, more equitable funding would help. So would a genuine and sustained effort to raise the morale and status of teachers. There is a real danger that the undermining of the profession will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as those who can, leave, and it becomes more and more difficult to recruit high calibre replacements. Are any teachers out there advising the brightest sixth-formers to follow in their footsteps? I think not.

The promised slimming down of the primary curriculum will help restore confidence. Most schools will welcome the opportunity to concentrat e on basic skills, and in smaller classes too.

There are logistical problems to be overcome, particularly in schools with a three-term intake. And as a governor, I do wonder how class sizes of under 30 can be enforced without infringing the principles of local management. But give us the money, and we will certainly follow the spirit of these proposals, if not the letter. And scrap primary league tables. Do it now.

The abolition of nursery vouchers raised another small cheer, but uncertainty about what is to follow. "Existing voluntary and private provision" has not thus far created enough places for four-year-olds, and there is still the danger of nursery children being rushed into reception classes or three-year-olds being squeezed out of playgroups.

Let us say it loud and clear - proper nursery education needs substantial capital investment.

And what about governors? I hate to appear self-centred, but I have not heard us mentioned yet. We had a nice letter from David Blunkett saying all the right things about partnership, but we did not feature in the Queen's Speech, even in our usual end-of-the queue role - as in "local education authorities, teachers, parents and governors..." With proposals that LEAs assume overall responsibilit y for school improvement, and such diverse figures as Cherie Booth and David Hart suggesting a "redifinition" of our role - another Orwellian phrase - I feel just a little threatened. It would be disappointing if governors' high national profile through the National Governors' Council was negated by a diminution of their influence at school level.

But let's hope for the best; when England can beat Australia at cricket and Italy at football, all good things are possible.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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