Last page of a five-year journal;Briefing;Governors;Dalton's diary

22nd May 1998 at 01:00
It is five years since I started writing the occasional pieces for the Governors' page which gradually evolved into Dalton's Diary. At that time I had been a governor for nearly three years, and towards the end of my first year as chair I was facing the daunting prospect of appointing a head.

We were still reeling from the impact of local management of schools coupled with swingeing cuts in budgets. The local authority had lost an empire and not yet found a role. We were reluctant to buy-in the advice and training we badly needed. The national curriculum was changing more frequently than a Manchester United away strip and Department for Education and Employment directives seemed to arrive by every post.

We were successively told we were responsible for religious education, reporting to parents and the special needs code of practice. Then there were national tests, league tables, grant-maintained status, inspections, heads and deputies' pay, redundancies, admissions, exclusions, child protection issues, target setting and the literacy initiative to contend with: the list goes ever on.

A generic subtitle for most of my pieces over the last five years could be "Governors are required to do what?" As a lay governor, I was often horrified by the high level of knowledge and expertise needed to fulfil our responsibilities. Everything local authorities used to manage and many newly invented ones were down to us.

Local authorities were just to provide us with training and catch us when we fell. It sometimes felt as sensible as sacking all the surgeons at the local hospital and replacing them by people who had done a Red Cross first-aid course.

My local authority is currently offering a two-hour session for governors entitled "How do Children Learn?" which I thought people normally found out by doing a four-year BEd.

Perhaps I have been naively literal in my interpretation of my role as governor and chair. My feeling has always been that if I were to be accountable for all these aspects of school life I needed fully to understand the issues and feel that I was able to influence, if not control, outcomes. This does tend to make governing into a full-time job; I have every sympathy with those who take the more realistic approach of rubber-stamping decisions made by the head. It is just worth remembering that most heads have no training in financial and personnel management either.

On the positive side, I have seen governing bodies originally designed to curb schools become their most staunch supporters; I have seen legislation intended to create competition generate increase co-operation between schools; and I have been part of the formation of governors' associations locally and nationally, giving us at least some say in the policies we are charged to implement.

My identity is a badly-kept secret in my home area, as I do not like to feel I am a spy in the camp. A governor from another school once said to me. "I'm so glad to meet you: my husband thinks it must be me doing the diaries, because everything you write is just what I've been saying." I hope this is still true. Perhaps fellow-sufferers would like to write and tell me?

This is Joan Dalton's last diary. She will continue to write for The TES regularly, in a new series beginning on June 5.

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