`Only two teachers have made it through the barricade'

9th December 1994 at 00:00
So what are governors for? Well, obviously we are there to keep an eye on the teachers. Education is far too important to be left to the trained professionals. In 1986, the original proposals for the newly-powerful governing bodies suggested equal representation for teachers and parents, but this would have given undue influence to the dangerous trendy lefties who dominate the profession. Our small primary has three parent governors and only one teacher representative.

There was some alarm at the Department for Education when it became apparent that teachers were infiltrating governing bodies under the guise of parent governors, local education authority appointees and co-optees, and it was proposed that they should be barred. Sadly, this excellent idea was greeted with howls of anguish from governing bodies already struggling to recruit new members and the DFE had to abandon this attempt to place control of schools even more firmly in the hands of the parents, politicians and parish councils. Ordinary, sensible folk, like you and me.

My own governing body has resisted invasion by teachers reasonably successfully. Only two have made it through the barricades, one parent and one co-opted governor. The rest of us are a mixed bunch; childminder, playgroup helper, social worker, Post Office executive, classroom assistant. But pride of place must go to Eric. He is totally untainted by any previous knowledge of the education system. Retired now from his optician's practice, and not blessed with children of his own, he can't have been inside a primary school since the end of the war.

He is invaluable. Not only does he possess his own Father Christmas outfit, but he can always be relied on to ask the difficult questions, and make us re-examine and re-evaluate our assumptions about current education practice. He is also, after some initial reservations, a great supporter of the school, its staff and the children.

Almost as useful is Mark. He is the father of three children, a parent governor, and in his spare time an education officer with a neighbouring county. Yes, I know this is cheating, to have someone who actually understands pay policy, employment legislation and how the school budget is calculated, and we do try to play fair.

We still do our budget projections on the backs of envelopes, with the aid of a pocket calculator, and only allow Mark to whizz the figures through his lap-top computer when we have produced the same answers three times running. We have trained him to sit quietly at governors' meetings while we struggle with the complexities of the SEN code of practice and the new pay scales.

"I think that's right," he says encouragingly, as we grind to a halt in a tangle of acronyms and technicalities, and proceeds to summarise the previously half-hour's discussion in a few sentences that seem to encapsulate exactly what we wanted to say. Our clerk suddenly starts writing again, and we feel proud of our perceptiveness.

I was pleased to see the trust that the DFE has in the judgment of us ordinary folk extended to the inspection system. They imagined the lay inspectors on the OFSTED teams being sensible, unbiased open-minded people, like Eric. But how are they to preserve their educational virginity? Will not constant exposure to schools and teachers inevitably corrupt them? Perhaps, like surgical gloves, they should be discarded after a single use.

After all, look what's happened to governors. They've gone native, that's what. In every recent crisis, from Romeo and Juliet to SATs and sex education, in the face of damning OFSTED reports and bombarded with opt-out propaganda, they have sided with the teachers.

Instead of exercising proper control over the enemy, they are in there collaborating.

Our governors mend fences and paint walls, bake cakes for the summer fair and help in the classroom. They attend concerts, curriculum evenings and sports days and fraternise openly with the staff in the local pub. So take warning governors, any more of this and you too could be reformed.

Joan dalton is a governor in the Midlands.

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