Make governors take up training
Induction training should be compulsory for all new governors, according to the national association representing Wales's biggest volunteer group.
Governors should also be subject to a code of practice to ensure they fully understand their roles and responsiblities, says Governors Wales. However, the Assembly government has still to respond to a code drafted by the organisation - more than a year after it was submitted.
Introducing compulsory training for governors would represent a sea-change in policy. Governor organisations elsewhere in the UK have resisted compulsion for fear of putting volunteers off joining school boards.
But other volunteers, such as magistrates, have to undergo introductory training. And Governors' Wales, marking its 10th anniversary this week, believes training - particularly courses involving all members of the board - is the key to improving the performance of some governing bodies that are "isolated from ideas".
It hopes to produce its own self-review training materials for members by next spring.
Peter Griffin, the organisation's honorary life president, claimed that less than a quarter (443) of Cardiff's 2,000-odd governors attended any of the city council's training courses last year (2003-4).
He believes the actual number of attendees is even less, because a few enthusiastic governors might attend most of the courses on offer. But individuals are unable to change the culture of those governing bodies which are not involved enough in school improvement, he believes.
Mr Griffin, now a governor at Windsor Clive juniors in Ely, where he was once headteacher, added: "We have to raise the awareness of individual governors, but especially whole governing bodies, of what their function and role is.
"The old phrase, that all you need to be a governor is common sense, just won't wash. There is a whole host of knowlege you need to acquire about legal responsibilities. The minimum you can ask for is that when a person becomes a governor, they make a commitment to train."
Ideally, he would like to see governors undertake regular self-review, with the help of an independent adviser, in much the same way that the governing body reviews the performance of the head each year.
Funding would come from a small training budget supplied by local education authorities, which would receive most of the cash back to provide courses.
Governing bodies would have to account for their use of the training budget.
Governors Wales also wants to see a code of conduct for governors adopted by the Assembly government. However, it has still to receive a response to its own draft code, submitted to the Assembly in February 2004.
The A4-length draft says governors should:
* act in the best interests of the school and its pupils;
* keep up-to-date with education policy developments via training;
* respect the head's responsibility for day-to-day management of the school;
* be "open, honest, fair and impartial";
* abide by collective decisions made by the governing body.
Colin Thomas, director of Governors' Wales, said the aim of the code was to address "common misperceptions" over things like collective responsibility and confidentiality.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about something as fundamental as collective responsibility. The governing body is a corporate body and that restricts the capacity of governors to act as individuals, even if they wanted to."
The code was welcomed by heads, who sometimes complain of governors attempting to "micro-manage" schools when they should be taking a strategic view of school improvement.
Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "A code of practice and compulsory induction would be a hugely welcome move in terms of school governors. They play a pivotal role in school life and must have support in doing so.
"Training and an understanding of the increasingly complex educational and social environment in which schools operate would be invaluable."
An Assembly government spokesperson said: "The code of conduct needs further work on it and we have not been able to give it priority given other work, but we will be progressing it.
"We are sympathetic to the idea of mandatory induction training but it is difficult to know how to do that when talking about volunteers. LEAs have good induction programmes and look to Governors Wales as the representative body to promote take-up of training by governors."