`Interfering' governors condemned

6th September 1996 at 01:00
What heads think about governing bodies in the TES survey.

Heads and school governors in England and Wales are locked in power struggles which threaten their working relationships.

Just 30 per cent of heads across the country believe that Government attempts to put more power in the hands of governors have improved management. The majority warned that schools were in danger of being run by well-meaning but interfering people and demanded a strict list of do's and don'ts for governing bodies.

Four out of every five heads said the role of governors had to be more clearly defined with the strongest mandate for change coming from primary schools.

The power of governors has grown as that of local authorities has diminished, according to Phil Whitehead, recently retired head of Grendon Underwood primary in Aylesbury, Bucks.

"Parents do not understand who governors are, what they do, nor the power they have. Most teachers are only just becoming aware of this. Most heads have had it thrust in their faces for four years or so."

The calls for clarity come against a backdrop of fighting between heads and their boards over a new code of conduct to prevent interference in school management.

And discussions about a set of principles of governance are now taking place between a host of organisations including the National Association of Head Teachers, the National Governors Council and the National Association of Governors and Managers.

Pat Petch, chair of the NGC, said governors and heads had distinctive roles. "Ours is to provide the strategic overview, it is separate from day-to-day management. It is to act as a critical friend."

Four out of every five primary schools want the governor's role clarified, compared with 59 per cent of secondary and 71 per cent of middle school heads.

Less that a quarter of middle schools and only 28 per cent of primary heads believed that giving governors more power had improved management. However, 41 per cent of secondary heads felt the changes had been beneficial.

And one primary head from Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, said: "Governors should have less power - especially regarding staff salaries which should be decided nationally or by the local authority, particularly those of the headteacher and deputy.

Another - from a primary in Melton Mowbray - added: "We are in danger of schools being run by well-meaning lay people when what we need is strong professional vision and leadership."

Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, has said she will give serious consideration to a code of practice to clarify procedures - if all organisations reach agreement.

At this stage that would appear unlikely. And Cherie Booth, QC and a specialist in employment and education law, has now entered the fray. In a recent TES article the wife of the Labour leader said local authorities should be given more power to step in where a governing body is out of control and that governors should be given regular compulsory training.

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