Lawyers press for governor controls

21st June 1996 at 01:00
Local education authorities should be given more powers to step in where a school governing body is out of control, according to Cherie Booth QC, a specialist in employment and education law and wife of the leader of the Labour party.

In today's TES2, Ms Booth, a governor of a London primary, and Jessica Hill, a solicitor formerly employed by Berkshire County Council, say that governors, like JPs, should have regular compulsory training. They should also be subject to appraisal, to permit the removal of governors "no longer performing to the appropriate standard".

Recent legislation has given governing bodies "power without responsibility", say Booth and Hill, and has done little or nothing to change the way in which they are selected or trained. Above all, they complain that neither the Education Secretary nor the local authority has the power to affect the performance of governors before a school goes badly astray.

Where a governing body performs badly, they say, the authority has only two remedies: either to complain to the Secretary of State or wait until the governing body's actions are such that it can withdraw the powers of financial delegation and run the school itself.

"Serious problems are not addressed before damage is done to education at a school that is underperforming," say Booth and Hill. "There needs to be some mechanism to allow problems to be addressed earlier." The obvious body to do this, they say, is the LEA, "which has the expertise, local knowledge and accountability".

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, has welcomed the article as an important contribution to debate but was careful to distance himself from its conclusions. Stressing the "crucial" role of governors in local management of schools and the critical importance of "satisfactory" training and development, he made no reference to the demands for more powers for LEAs or for training to be made compulsory.

The analysis coincides with a proposal from the National Union of Teachers that LEAs should be given the power to remove governors who are obstructing their ability to help schools improve. Local authorities, not the Secretary of State, should be able to create an education association or "hit squad" if a school is found to be failing, says the union.

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