Lapdogs or leaders?;Briefing;Governors
Victoria Neumark reports.
As the House of Commons education select committee discusses the role of headteachers, a new survey, conducted for The TES by the Institute of School and College Governors highlights governors' concerns about their relations with heads. The 500 members of the ISCG panel were canvassed on heads and governing bodies, performance-related pay, appraisal, the role of the chair and whether there should be compulsory training. The replies reveal how much positive aspiration governors bring to their task, and how seriously they take their responsibilities.
Lack of information can be a bone of contention. One head told a governor: "It is wrong for governors to get involved in this kind of thing" (discussing performance-related pay). Such a remark may sound, says Felicity Taylor of the ISCG, "depressingly familiar". One governor reports:
"Occasionally the head finds it hard to take on board views and opinions which may differ from his."
But when asked "What is your experience in getting information from the head? " 70 per cent replied that "the head readily volunteeers the information governors need to carry out their duties"; 24 per cent said "the head provides information when requested" and "the head delays or avoids requests for information" was the reply of 6 per cent.
Overall, then, relationships between governing bodies and heads remain positive and effective. Remarks from the dissatisfied minority include both, "The head takes any suggestions from governors as personal criticism" and "ignorance on the part of governors seriously undermines their effectiveness".
When asked to describe the relationship between the governing body and the head, 77 per cent said it was "effective and based on mutual understanding and respect of roles", 18 per cent that it was "usually productive but disagreements about the role of the governing body prevent it from being fully effective at times" and 5 per cent that "a serious lack of understanding of the role of governors often hampers the effectiveness of the governing body".
Governors with non-educational backgrounds are often amazed at the opacity of teacher appraisal and are unsure how it relates to pay.
Meanwhile 65 per cent felt that governing bodies should be told the grades awarded to teachers by Office for Standards in Education inspectors; 17 per cent thought that the results of appraisal should be considered in the annual review of all staff salaries; 73 per cent believed governing bodies should be involved in appraising the head and 38 per cent felt that some heads put unfair pressure on governors to increase their pay, Furthermore 20 per cent said that "as a governor I have personal experience of such pressure"; 22 per cent said that some local authorities put pressure on governing bodies over heads' pay decisions and 55 per cent thought governing bodies were the best people to decide headteachers' pay.
Disturbingly, 38 per cent thought heads put pressure on their governing bodies to up their pay, and 20 per cent had been subjected to this (though one brave spirit insisted "it didn't work").
In all, three-quarters of the sample would give governing bodies a major role in deciding headteachers' pay - 55 per cent plus a further 20 per cent of respondents who thought it should be done by governors in partnership with the local authority, the Pay Review body, or professional financial advisers. About 10 per cent thought the local authority should be solely responsible, while another 7 per cent wanted there to be national criteria. As many as 5 per cent of the sample suggested, somewhat rashly, that other heads or union representatives should make the decision and one wanted teachers in the school to decide (this response was not from a teacher).
Considerable unease was revealed about governing bodies' role in determining performance-related pay. One in four respondents said that they were opposed to perfomance-related pay - on the grounds that it was wrong in principle (9 per cent), bad for staff morale (11 per cent) or too hard to formulate objective criteria (3 per cent). "Don't touch it with a barge pole," was the advice from a teacher governor.
However, 25 per cent supported performance-related pay, subject to a trial period (5 per cent) realistic targets (6 per cent), proper training for governors (3 per cent). Meanwhile, 4 per cent of those in favour said that staff should be rewarded for excellent work. "Regardless of status, money will always be a motivator in performance. It's vital to link this with pupil achievement," one wrote. Teachers should welcome merit pay if they wanted to be on equal terms with industry, where it was standard practice, said another.
Governors were asked which factors would influence them in considering whether to adopt performance-related pay. If additional money were provided 61 per cent would be more inclined, 2 per cent would be less inclined; 69 per cent said they would be more inclined if objective criteria were set for recognising exceptional performance; 62 per cent would be swayed if performance targets were required for all staff, not just heads and deputies; and 68 per cent said they would be persuaded if there were more agreement in the teaching profession.
Many governors were perturbed by the growing emphasis on the role of the chair. Chairs and heads could get too "cosy" so that the chair became a "lapdog for the head" some felt; or chairs might - even "with great goodwill and totally unaware" - take too much on themselves and "misrepresent both governing body and school". The role of the chair seemed problematic for many schools.
When they were asked whether more responsibility for the chair would have the potential to damage relationships within the governing body, 21 per cent felt it would lead to a lack of trust between the chair and others and 41 per cent felt it would lead to more confidence that the school was being properly managed.
The vast majority - 83 per cent - felt training for new governors should be compulsory. The National Governors' Council is opposed, but the ISCG sample were overwhelmingly in favour. "I've been saying this for years," was one typical comment. Of those who disagreed, half were local authority governors and a quarter co-opted. Their main worry was that compulsion might make it more difficult to find new governors.
One of the 500 summed up with the comment that "the strength of the governing body is in their collective wisdom and judgment". The hot potatoes of pay, training, appraisal and relationships remain, as Felicity Taylor says, in "creative tension" - one which any revision of the system needs to respect.
The Institute of School and College Governors is an independent organisation and can be contacted at Avondale Park School, Sirdar Road, London W11 4EE.