Let them pay governors

4th February 2000 at 00:00
It is almost 25 years since Margaret Thatcher made her pledge to "roll back the areas of decision by government".

No one - not even Thatcher herself - knew then just how radical that soundbite would prove. It triggered a steady dismantling of the local authority system in favour of individual and corporate management.

Those who also expected paternalism to die were to be bitterly disappointed; nowhere more so than in education and, in particular, colleges. Here, successive Secretaries of State have imposed codes and regulations as binding as a straitjacket.

The cheek of it is that ministers have expected volunteer armies of governors to perform duties once administered by highly paid executives. Certain governors should be paid in line with their duties. Power has been pulled to the centre and responsibility pushed to the edge. As a 'TES' national survey shows, governors are expected to behave like officers while being treated like squaddies.

There is a contradiction in both Thatcherism and Blairism: they want control taken out of the hands of "professionals" and given to people in the "ral world": business leaders, parents and the community. But their governments will not let go. Everything from cashflows to the curriculum is capped and controlled.

Small wonder then that our survey reveals a 12 per cent shortage of governors nationally. Around one-third of the shortfall is because colleges are holding out on appointments until the full impact of the new regulations is understood.

This is precisely the problem. What a preposterous position to leave colleges in. If this is the Third Way, it is a confused and confusing way. For better or worse, majority representation by business leaders on college boards has been abolished. But questions about the new structure of corporations have yet to be answered. College after college in our survey welcomed democratisation of boards but bemoaned the diktat to cut the size of business interests.

Alongside the FE reforms and the Learning and Skills Bill, ministers should consider how to give much more local discretion over board membership and payment of small emoluments. Otherwise it could just be faced with an army of deserters.

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