Not in our back yard

14th November 1997 at 00:00
Many teachers are also governors. A proposal some years ago that they should not be allowed to serve, except as elected teacher governors in their own school, had to be abandoned swiftly when officials realised the devastating effect this would have on governing bodies already struggling to fill their vacancies.

As local education authority appointees, co-optees or parent governors, teachers can be an enormous asset to a governing body, forming a bridge between the professionals, the head and teacher governors, and the lay members of the governing body. This works particularly well when the teacher is a governor in a school in a different phase of education from that in which they teach. This broadens their understanding of the continuum of children's education and removes the temptation for them to interfere too much in teaching issues.

When shortlisting candidates for teaching posts, particularly ones carrying management responsibility, I am always impressed by those who are serving or have served as governors. They will have a knowledge of financial and personnel management issues and should be able to form a good working relationship with governors at their new school.

Elected teacher governors, we all agree, are a Good Thing - and we welcome them onto our governing bodies. But how supportive are we of members of our own school staff who want to fulfil their governors' responsibilities at another school?

We accept that all governors need to spend time in their schools during the working day. Our LEA says teachers may be allowed paid leave for this purpose at the discretion of the head. In a small primary like mine, where no member of staff has non-contact time, this is a financial burden on the school as well as potentially disruptive for the children.

We are advised to set a fixed "reasonable" amount of time per term. But what happens if a member of our staff becomes a chair of governors with an inspection from the Office for Standards in Education to contend with, or a headship appointment to make? How much time would then be deemed reasonable? If more than one member of staff were to become a governor, a county councillor or magistrate, we would be in real trouble. Perhaps it is just as well that most teachers are too overwhelmed by the pressures of the job to volunteer for anything extra.

Of course schools ought to be setting a good example. We would expect other employers to allow our governors time off to spend on school visits, and many of the large public companies do. One of our governors works for BT and is granted generous paid time off and training support. For the self-employed, like me, whose time is money, being a governor can be an expensive hobby. The question of proper expenses for governors, on a similar basis to allowances for county councillors, comes up frequently when governors meet at conferences and on courses. Soon only the comfortably retired will be willing to serve, particularly as chairs.

What I am saying, as so often, is that what I support in principle, I do not wish to pay for out of my school budget. But as my friendly LEA officer points out, there is only one pot of education money available. The cost of centrally funded services, allowances for governors, funding for teacher governors' responsibilities and professional clerking services can only be met by cutting school budgets. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Come to think of it, who in the end foots the bill for BT's generous policy?

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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