Paid helpers would only spoil things;Agenda;Governors

27th February 1998 at 00:00
Joan Sallis considers proposals to pay some governors

The School Standards and Framework Bill currently going through Parliament proposes to allow additional governors whom the Government may appoint to failing schools to be paid for their services.

Is this because they think that people with the necessary skills and commitment may otherwise be difficult to recruit in the sort of areas where schools often fail? Or because if you have the skills, commitment isn't relevant? (I would hesitate to give power to anyone without commitment, however clever they are.) Many governors at some time face quite exceptionally difficult issues. These are not always related to social deprivation.

My agenda column includes plenty of hairy problems attributable to affluence and the expectations of the educated classes, to the attitudes of professionals to "amateur meddling", and just to funny old human nature. The inspection process also reveals schools in so-called areas of deprivation which are united and caring and do remarkably well. If you accept that governors of schools classed as failing cannot have a permanent monopoly of insomnia, will there one day be a published sliding scale of difficulty determining whether and how much volunteers are paid? Where does it lead you if you assume that certain schools will only recruit good governors if you pay them?

Will the appointed governors be specially clever and well-educated? Will there be a test? If so, why can't governors volunteering in the usual way take it? Does one need these qualifications to be a good governor? Or something else not so easy to measure? If paid governors work side-by-side with unpaid ones, what effect does this have on status? Does money convey a louder voice or an extra vote? A special claim to be chair? We surely already have enough trouble with perceived A and B teams.

If there is any suggestion that the special governors will be seen as doing the Government's work, what happens to the unity of governing bodies and the much-valued independence of their members? Governors react sharply to any hint of private agendas.

What is needed to recruit governors more easily in some areas is a legal right to time off with pay. It is here that the captive hourly-paid, the small employers who haven't heard of governors, and two weeks' fixed holiday in the summer are to be found.

One also needs out-of-pocket expenses (not from the school budget) for all governors, and loss of earnings provision for the small self-employed.

These reforms should have first claim on money. But payment of governors for their work would in many people's eyes change the whole nature of the job and not for the better, while paying some must surely be divisive.

Is a sports club near you coping for the first time with the challenges of professionalism? It can be done but relationships in a team are much harder work when what is paid out depends on how good you are (and who says?), how scarce you are and who else wants you.

It's also not so easy to get volunteers for those unrewarding jobs off the field either, taking money at the gate (and missing the game), organising the raffle and the social events, getting advertising space booked in the programme. Nor is it just a problem for sport.

I speak from half a lifetime in voluntary organisations, where credibility, however important you may be, means moving your share of the chairs and washing up after the jumble sale.

Tensions are inevitable if a time comes when some jobs are paid for and some not. It can be managed, but not without the kind of problems governors have plenty of already.

There is an alternative. If a school needs the experience and guidance of specific people whose circumstances make it necessary for their time to be paid for, why not make them consultants? No governors will reject wise advice as long as it is clear that the ultimate responsibility for decisions rests with the members acting corporately.

Governors are appointed or elected by the school's stake-holding interests: the only proper basis for power.

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