Hutt has governors in her sights

18th September 2009 at 01:00
Government says extra powers from Westminster are essential to success of flagship policies

The assembly government is seeking greater control over school governing bodies as part of an ongoing push to improve school effectiveness and pupil attainment.

Ministers are preparing a proposed legislative competence order (LCO) to request extra legal powers from Westminster.

If it passes the scrutiny of Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay and committees of MPs and Lords in the Houses of Parliament, the LCO will give the government the ability to make primary legislation on anything to do with school governing bodies - including their constitution, establishment, powers and duties.

The government views the new powers as vital to the success of two of its major education initiatives - the attainment-raising school effectiveness framework (SEF) and the skills-led 14-19 learning pathways.

Jane Hutt, the education minister, sees governing bodies as the missing ingredient of the SEF, which is one of her department's flagship policies.

The SEF, which aims to raise levels of achievement and improve teaching through sharing best practice, will be rolled out to all schools across Wales from September 2010.

Although the pilot schemes were successfully driven by teams of "superheads" and local authority officials, Ms Hutt believes the only way the policy can succeed nationally is if school governing bodies are behind it.

She is also aware that the learning pathways policy, which relies on collaboration between clusters of schools and schools with further education colleges, will only achieve its ambitious aim with the full support of governors.

The new powers would also allow the government to improve school governor training opportunities, something that a cross-party Assembly committee called for earlier this year.

A spokeswoman said: "This specific area of legal competence is being sought to support the government's policy objective in raising standards of attainment and effectiveness in all schools for all pupils.

"Governance sets the strategic framework within which schools operate, the broad direction of action; and it provides the oversight mechanism for monitoring and evaluating progress, allocating resources, and taking action to improve outcomes."

Governors Wales, the body which represents school governors, said that, in general, it would welcome legislative powers being introduced for improving the effectiveness of governing bodies.

But Jane Morris, the organisation's director, said: "We are mindful that full consultation and dialogue needs to take place on any specific proposals when further details are available.

"We will be liaising closely with relevant parties as the process goes through the different legislative stages."

Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said the real issue is what the government might do with the powers.

"We have particular concerns over any approach which uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut," he said. "The real barrier to consortia approaches is funding rather than governance issues - there seems to be unwillingness or inability on the part of some to accept that collaborative delivery, essential for the 14-19 curriculum, is more expensive rather than less.

"We would hope that any changes in governance legislation are targeted at the minority and do not impose unnecessary change on the majority."

The LCO is the latest sign from Cardiff Bay of a desire to move towards a more professional system of school governance in Wales.

New regulations that came into force this month allow schools in Wales to federate their governing bodies, a measure which the Assembly government said would help schools improve their governance and management.

And only last month a cross-party Assembly committee made 21 recommendations to improve the work of governors.

The committee said that chairs of governing bodies should get specialist training, and that regular governors should join teachers for Inset days and become "specialists" in areas of the curriculum.

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