THE COMING of the new national curriculum in September 2000 cannot fail to involve primary governors in a great deal more paperwork and decision-making. But how can they best assist the process, and are they properly equipped to do so?
Two hours of the primary day will still be devoted to literacy and numeracy, but schools will have to reinstate non-core subjects - including music, art, history and geography.
The Government dropped compulsory study in these areas to clear the way for literacy and numeracy hours. As a result, some subjects - music, in particular - have virtually disappeared from some primaries. In addition, schools will be asked to follow new guidelines on personal, social and health education.
Governors may view the changes with trepidation. "The word 'curriculum' is off-putting. It sounds very professional and governors feel they are not qualified to contribute," explains Viv Bird, co-author of the National Literacy Trust's guide for school governors.
However, she is confident that teachers' experience of the literacy hour will help them find ways of using it more imaginatively to embrace other subjects, and to develop a more integrated approach to the curriculum. For example, texts used in the hour could relate to history, geography or art, as well as to English.
But she added: "It shouldn't be a case of eitheror. Governors will need to satisfy themselves that the gains made through the literacy hour - particularly in key stage 2 tests - will not be lost as a result of curriculum overload."
Although most governing bodies now have a curriculum committee, they do not always know what they should be doing, according to Melian Mansfield, an independent governor-trainer in London. Part of the problem is that schools often fail to give them the detailed information they need, such as curriculum revision booklets or subject policy documents.
However, the literacy and numeracy governors appointed to support their respective 'hours' have been making headway - spending time in classrooms, gaining understanding about teaching and learning, and including more on these subjects in their annual reports. She suggests a similar approach, with governors shadowing a particular subject, could be used in other curriculum areas.
However, fitting the new curriculum into the school day will not be an easy task. Margaret Riddell, a director at Information for School and College Governors, knows one governing body already contemplating increasing the day by 15 minutes. She believes some art and music activities will have to be accommodated after-school.
Governors can help by asking the right questions:
Is the school providing a broad and balanced curriculum? Governors are often better placed than teachers to look at the big picture.
Is the school concentrating sufficiently on its priority areas in the curriculum, and what spending decisions need to be made here?
Is the school communicating changes to parents, and taking their views into account? Governors can play a useful mediating role between parents and schools.
Are changes being made at a sensible pace, so that staff don't feel under pressure? Governors need to support staff through periods of upheaval, and apply the brakes when necessary.
GOVERNORS' CURRICULUM RESPONSIBILITIES
The "Guide to the law" from the Department for Education and Employment says governors should:
With the head, make sure the curriculum and its assessment procedures are carried out in full.
Decide, in primary schools, whether sex education should be provided.
In secondary schools, have a policy on the content and organisation of sex education.
Decide the approach to RE and the arrangements for collective worship (in controlled schools).
Hear complaints from parents about the curriculum.
Adapt the local authority's curriculum policy, in a way that fits in with the national curriculum.