The needs of the body

19th January 2001 at 00:00
Don't listen to the critics, says schools minister Jacqui Smith, our reforms will give governors the strategic role they crave

Recent articles on these pages have given a less-than-balanced view of our proposals for governing bodies ("Power-shearing opposed" by Joan Sallis, December 8; "We're not all right, Jacqui", Peter Kerr, December 15; "And then there was chaos", Jane Phillips, January 5).

Far from removing most strategic roles, as Joan Sallis said, our proposals suggest ways of ensuring that governing bodies have more time for strategic work. We want to free governors from some of their more detailed executive responsibilities, while ensuring that they have real influence on how schools develop.

Joan Sallis is also wrong to suggest we are proposing to take away governing bodies' powers for monitoring school budgets. Our consultation document does not recommend change in budget-related responsibilities. Indeed, it specifically says that governing bodies should "assure themselves of the soundness of the school's financial systems; and ensure they take an overview and monitor progress".

Our suggestion that governing bodies should focus on key leadership appointments, leaving heads (within a policy framework set by governing bodies) to recruit other staff, would relieve governors of time-consuming work.

Peter Kerr may think it absurd that a governing body should have to pick up a head's bad appointment decision, but, in reality, few governing bodies go against their head's preference when recruiting staff.

And not all governors are equally enthused about direct involvement in other staffing matters. The recent TESNational Association of Governors and Managers' survey indicated that only 36 per cent of governors felt they should be involved in promoting staff and only 28 per cent felt they should be responsible for disciplining staff.

Openness and fairness would be secured by governors continuing to hear appeals, especially as most such cases would go to appeal. But at least governing bodies would only have to consider the isues once, instead of having to review their own decisions as they do now.

Given concerns about workload, I hope governing bodies will seriously consider the time and effort this proposal would save. It would also remove the difficulty some small school bodies face of having to find enough uninvolved governors to form two separate committees.

Governors have risen magnificently to the increasing demands placed on them. But my post bag (and those of other ministers) is full of letters telling us that governors are doing too much. It is governors themselves who are telling us that it is time to call a halt and take a radical look at what they are being asked to do. Peter Kerr may find them insulting, but our proposals are an attempt to do just that.

In striking a balance between their strategic role and managing workloads, governors also need to re-examine their own internal working practice. No company board would ever attempt to do all the work itself, simply because it had overall responsibility - even for matters as vital as health and safety.

The steps we have already taken to streamline the administration of the Standards Fund, to cut paperwork by reducing the amount sent directly to schools, and the increase in funding passed directly to schools have been widely welcomed by most governors and heads.

Governors also need more support and advice to help them raise standards. That is why we are investing in a national induction training programme for new governors, which will come in next September, and a new professional advice line, GovernorLine, launched last week.

I trust that any governor thinking of responding to Joan Sallis's call to "speak out against the proposals" will first take the time to read the consultation document itself, and see what it really says.

I do hope that as many governors as possible will read it, and let us have their views.

The proposals for governing bodies are at governorconsult.htm. Or ring 0845 602 2260 for printed copies. Consultations close on February 28.

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