Leave governors to get on with it

5th July 1996 at 01:00
What evidence, apart from the purely subjective and anecdotal, have Cherie Booth and Jessica Hill (TES, June 21) that school governors do not take their role as seriously as that of magistrates?

Furthermore, there is no substantive evidence to suggest that by making the training of school governors compulsory, as opposed to voluntary and desirable, that their roles and responsibilities would be more clearly understood or that their duties would be carried out more effectively. Are all magistrates entirely capable, even though they have undergone compulsory training? I think not.

There are ineffective governors and governing bodies just as there are ineffective magistrates, lawyers and, indeed, local authorities. The very essence of governing bodies is the eclectic mix of their members and the lay common-sense views that governors bring to school strategy and policy-making.

One of the main functions of governing bodies is to ensure accountability at a very local level - much more effective than the distant accountability provided by the local education authority. Most parents would not know which education authority their children's school is in - let alone the names of those local councillors who represent them.

Local education authority advice is invaluable, and most governing bodies would consider carefully the advice received in order to make informed decisions - but this has to remain advisory.

Education department officers have expert knowledge and a wealth of experience to offer school governing bodies but this is often influenced by the political dogma of the elected councillors, who make the policy decisions within the council.

Any move to make the advice given to school governing bodies compulsory undermines the inherent authority and ability that governing bodies now have to exert a unique influence on the running of schools. The risk of local authorities abusing any such new monitoring powers far outweighs the possible benefits.

Councillors take their role no more or less seriously than school governors. Most councillors, however, stand under the banner of a political party, and the council decision-making process is swayed by the party view. Local authorities are political organisations. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that - it is the very nature of local government. But local councils and the officers that work within them cannot possibly be impartial monitors of school governing bodies.

Apart from some local authority appointed governors, school governors are, by contrast, apolitical and do not vote in accordance with party policy. Their loyalty is foremost to their school. Governing bodies are not, as suggested by Cherie Booth and Jessica Hill "unaccountable or uncontrolled in the way that they administer public money", any more so than local authorities. Recent cases of alleged misuse of public money by some local authorities only serve to highlight this fact.

The monitoring of school governing bodies in the way that Ms Booth and Ms Hill wish is highly contentious, would be extremely costly and would add more bureaucracy to any already over-bureaucratic system.

To give local authorities more control over the actions of governing bodies will only ensure that local authority controlled schools will once again be used as party political tools by local, as well as central, government.

Local authorities already have substantial powers, often underused, to advise and monitor governing bodies. Rather than give local authorities more powers, the existing powers should be used more effectively.

It would be as well to leave the majority of governing bodies free to exercise their duties, in a reasonable way, unhampered by additional scrutiny from local education authorities.

HELEN DALTON

45 Montagu Road

Datchet

Berkshire

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