My odd, unselfish gene

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Like most governors I joined the board not only because I wanted to have an input into my children's school, but also because I was impelled by a very debilitating gene: the community regressive.

It was this gene that dragged my grandmother out of the mill to be one of the first women Labour councillors, and still has my family in its grip, as siblings seek every unpaid, but vital community office going.

And it is this gene that politicians exploit. If scientists could excise that piece of chromosome which compels us to do something for nothing but the common good, society would fall apart. But just as children must stamp in every puddle no matter how wet or dirty they get, we community regressives cannot help ourselves. How else can you explain that, despite being urged to behave like a corporate board, with all responsibility and liabilities of company directors, we will still work for no compensation?

Most of us do not even claim expenses. Who could claim their pound;10 childcare costs having just agreed a deficit budget?

Why do we all agree to losing time with our families to attend meetings? Because there is no rule that forces employers to give paid leave for gubanorial duties. Yet it is those very employers who would benefit from an educated workforce who had passed through well-governed schools.

Non-executive directors of health trusts are paid an annual allowance of pound;5,242, which at least allows them to take a few days' unpaid leave to fulfil their duties. And each time MPs vote on their own pay rise the cliches roll: if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Why does none of this apply to school governors?

In days of yore governors were like Lady Fitz-Hats Broccoli (not her real name) who turned up at prize-giving at my own secondary and spent the rest of her days doing whatever it is Ladies did. But those days are gone and the country needs boards with the skills to fulfil an ever-growing list of responsibilities.

Some 12 per cent of governor vacancies are now unfilled. People have better things to do with their time than meet to change commas on school development plans. With families barely finding time to see each other, who would choose to spend free time in a cold hall genning up on performance management? You know - those with a regressive community gene. But we may be a dying breed - society should break its dependence on us before it's too late.

Alison Shepherd is a chair of governors at a London school. Is there something you'd like to get off your chest? This column is open to all school leaders and governors: contact Susan Young at

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