Huddles in the storm

7th April 1995 at 01:00
Lindy Hardcastle reports on the progress of a new local association of governors.

The idea of an association of governors for Leicestershire was first floated at a conference for representatives from all county schools organised by the local authority. Leicestershire has continued to support its development with access to the schools' post service, printing and reprographic services and the newsletter sent to all governors.

This support has been crucial to the association's effective launch, but it has raised some suspicions that the local authority is in control of the association - or would like to be.

This is to misunderstand the nature of the relationship between the authority and governing bodies. Now governors call the tune, local authority services depend on our continuing to buy into them. The local authority itself survives only as long as a majority of the schools in the county resist the blandishments of the grant-maintained lobby.

Like governors, local authority departments have had to adapt themselves to life in the market place. Their approach is not to try to influence us unduly, but rather to show themselves ready to be influenced by us. They need to be seen to be user-friendly, open and responsive to the needs of teachers, pupils, parents and governors.

The Association of Leicestershire Governors was officially launched last November. Within the first couple of months, membership reached the 25 per cent level necessary for affiliation to the National Governors' Council.

Our role is gradually evolving. It has become clear that we cannot, and should not attempt to, formulate policies and responses on behalf of the 5,000-plus governors in Leicestershire. But we can stimulate informed discussion and response.

Budgeting issues are of prime importance at the moment. We are trying to show governing bodies how their schools' budgets are determined. Parents tend to blame governors for cuts and rising class sizes; governors blame the authority. we all need to bring pressure to bear on the politicians, local and national - we can certainly do this better as a united organisation. But persuading governors to look outside their own school and its immediate problems is not always easy.

A consultative document recently asked for responses to proposals for providing extra funding for key stage 2, in line with Department for Education advice. Of course, there is no "new money" for this, so the proposals largely related to where the corresponding cuts should be made. There was little more than a month between the consultation paper's issue and the closing date for responses, near the end of term, during which time many governing bodies would not normally meet.

The diversity of responses was striking. Some governors were simply unaware that it was happening. Either the responses were provided by the head andor chairman, or the papers will be produced at the next governors' meeting with the rider that they are now out of date. Other governors met and simply block-voted for or against all the details of the proposals, according to whether their own school was a winner or a loser. My own governors humoured me by attending a special meeting and picking through the proposals line by line. But they were quite convinced that whatever we said would make no difference as "they" had already made up their minds.

Some governing bodies met with others in their family of schools or local development groups, discussed how the proposals would affect the education of all the children in the area across the age ranges, and produced a considered, concerted response.

This is exactly the sort of co-operation and collective decision-making and planning the association seeks to promote through its consultative council. This is largely composed of governors representing development groups, based on geographical areas, and families of schools, but here again we found great diversity. Some groups are already meeting and working together on a regular basis at governor level, pooling expertise, discussing current issues, running joint training courses, co-ordinating policies across the phases of education.

For other groups, the meetings organised to nominate consultative council members were the first ever held. These meetings are crucial in two ways. First, they create a communications network, to pass information and concerns between governing bodies and the local authority through the governor members of the county Education Forum, set up by the local authority which also includes heads and county councillors. Second, they provide a meeting place for governors to share good practice and mutual support.

This means yet more meetings for already overworked governors. Amazingly, many are prepared to give up time to increase their effectiveness and to share skills and experience. We know we must provide real information and debate, and show ourselves to be influential at local and national level.

We must also assert our own rights to be informed, trained and consulted if we are to do our job properly. There are those amongst us who think we should also be paid - but that is a whole other article.

Lindy Hardcastle is secretary of the Association of Leicestershire Governors

The National Governors' Council was launched last October

* Its full title is the National Council of Governing Bodies

* The members are local associations of governing bodies

* There are now 30 local associations on the NGC

* Fifteen further groups are being set up

* Five of these will be full members soon

* To be eligible an association must be democratically run; be independent of the local authority and include at least 25 per cent of governing bodies in the authority

* Five other groups are registered but not full members

* The NGC must meet at least twice a year

* NGC subscriptions are Pounds 1 per governing body in the local association (minimum Pounds 50)

* Individual governing bodies can register (subscription Pounds 10)

* The NGC can be contacted at Glebe House, Church Street, Crediton, Devon EX17 2AF. Tel:0363 774377, fax 0363 776007

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