'It's a big dog's breakfast...'

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Karen Thornton finds west London board members in a sceptical mood

The Government may have failed to send a copy of its consultations over the reforms to every school, but in one London borough governors had no excuse for not having their say.

Richmond-upon-Thames council sent the document to all its schools. Chief education officer Angie Philips also attended a packed meeting of the borough's governors' forum - which ran out of chairs for the 100-plus who attended.

Local heads were also present, with many also opposed to the measures.

Pat Petch, who chairs the Richmond forum, said the meeting was "strongly against" proposals to reduce governors' involvement in personnel matters, including staff appointments, disciplinary hearings, grievances and dismissals.

Schools should retain the discretion to decide for themselves the level of governors' involvement in appointments, according to their own needs, and expertise.

Heads felt the plans would undermine the spirit in which governors and heads worked.

"They felt the input they got from governors, in all areas, such as staffing, was something they valued and didn't want to be without. One head said sometimes he felt like he'd been put on the rack ... but that that made for a better decision at the end of the day," she said.

The proposal that governors should approve the school's annual budget, link financial resourcing to staffing and pupil-achievement plans, but "not getinvolved in the detailed preparation of budget plans," seemed all right in principle. But governors were concerned that proper financial monitoring required more extensive involvement than that proposed.

And there was a roar of "no" to the suggestion that extra governors, brought in to help failing schools, should be paid, said Mrs Petch, a former chairwoman of the National Governors' Council.

There was also stiff opposition to allowing schools to "group" under a single governing body - especially as this idea came barely a year after the Government required neighbouring infant and junior schools to get rid of shared boards.

The offer of better support for governors - training, better clerking, improved headteacher training, allowances, and help with recruiting members - was welcomed.

But questions were asked as to where the money would come from for new clerkbursar positions.

Governors also wanted cash for their expenses ring-fenced: many do not claim them because they feel they are taking money away from pupils.

Mrs Petch added: "There's a huge amount of scepticism out there. The consultations have soured relationships quite badly. They are not based on any research. It's regarded as a very big dog's breakfast.

"The people on the ground will tell you what works best. They have to feel it's an enjoyable, do-able, and worthwhile job. The feeling from Richmond is these proposals will make it much harder to do."

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