I'm not sure what makes people want to become governors. A little power, maybe? A political leg-up?

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Apparently it's becoming hard to recruit school governors.

I'm not surprised. I'm not even sure what makes people want to become governors. A little power, maybe? A political leg-up? Some spare time to offer and a heart full of good intentions?

Certainly, their workload and responsibilities are awesome. They hire and fire, oversee the curriculum, listen to complaints from parents, and tell the head how the school's money should be spent. Major decisions must be approved by them. And they must form themselves into committees to discuss and evaluate every aspect of school life.

Which is fine when a school is running like a well-oiled machine, but what happens when it isn't? Well, they can simply walk away. They're unpaid volunteers, after all. What an eccentric system it all seems. And occasionally this gives rise to eccentric people, because, like juries, governing bodies contain a fair cross-section of society. Some, like Hilda, I've been delighted to see the back of. A religious fanatic with time on her hands, she spent a great deal of time examining the school's RE policy in excruciating detail and visiting classrooms to make sure it was being adhered to. For several months she was accompanied by the newest addition to the family, and wasn't averse to popping a breast out for the baby, often while the teacher was in full flow. I've never seen children distracted so quickly. Then there was Allun, an empty vessel who made a great deal of noise, but never seemed to be available when there was work to be done or a committee to be attended. I bet there's at least one Allun on every governing body in the country.

But for every pain in the neck there's always a deeply committed and enthusiastic soul, even though there can be a little naivety about the realities of school life. Eleanor was a newly appointed parent governor who wasn't a great fan of our playground toilets. They may be Victorian, she said, but couldn't we put decent paper, in decent holders, on the cubicle walls? Couldn't the children have soap, and paper towels? We explained that the playground helpers carried all these things, as we'd had lots of problems when they'd been put in the toilets. "But the children are so well behaved here," she persisted. "Couldn't we try it again?" We did, and I waited with bated breath.

By Thursday, it looked as if it had been snowing. A visiting after-school group had decided there was a lot of fun to be had from decorating the school garden with Tesco's best. Then, on Friday, things took a turn for the worse in the shape of a large forehead lump, a swollen eye and a cut lip. Infants Billy, Rashid and Thomas had been playing "Pirates of the Caribbean" (health and safety unapproved version), using the paper towels to fashion pirates' hats and the little bars of soap as missiles. Billy had dodged the missiles by hiding under a sink, but then cracked his head on it when he stood up. Following a further week of incidents, the governor agreed it might be best if we went back to the old system, whereby the materials were freely available from the duty helper's bag, but you had to ask first.

New governors are invariably enthusiastic, but this enthusiasm can sometimes be tempered by a rude awakening, as it was on the morning I was explaining the security system to our new deputy chair. Looking up at the monitor, he watched a parent hover by the main gate for a few moments, and was then astonished to see her stuff the recently delivered staffroom milk under her coat and disappear rapidly down the street.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.

Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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