Pointless pursuit of PC;Governors;Briefing

21st May 1999 at 01:00
Former teacher Michael J Smith courts controversy by denouncing the system of school governance as crass political correctness

Re-inventing the wheel is clearly a useless and time-wasting activity. And yet school governors, aided and abetted by both teachers and county hall staff, are at it all the time.

The running of schools, once the job of trained and experienced experts, is now shared with governors - amateur volunteers who, with the best will in the world, cannot hope to match the professionals. Help is, of course, always at hand. Many local authorities have set up governor support units (the titles vary): if you are a governor with a problem, someone at the office will tell you what used to be their job.

Teachers, too, are deeply involved in this re-invention. Nowhere is this more marked than in the area of school policies. Governing bodies everywhere are constantly writing and revising their policy documents on everything from salaries to special needs, from science to sex education.

Some of these policy areas, notably staffing and salaries, were previously in the remit of the local authority. They are still hedged about by government legislation: on pay scales and on health and safety, for example, governors' freedom of action is severely limited.

Curriculum policies were at one time the preserve of each school. It was the teaching staff who were the experts on subject areas. Any outside pressures were those of external examinations - once the 11-plus and more particularly public exams at 16 and 18.

With the advent of the national curriculum, the freedom of governors to decide curricular policy is even further curtailed.

Local education authorities, through their governor support units, often provide models on which each school's policies may be based. Thus governors, required by legislation to have a policy on every conceivable school activity, still have to rely heavily on the paid experts to carry out their voluntary role.

So why not county-wide or even national policies to avoid all this? In one of the crassest examples of political correctness in education today, the argument is that each school must "own" its policies in a vain attempt at imaginary autonomy.

The current unsatisfactory system falls between the twin stools of local independence and central direction: it is neither one thing nor the other. Mere political correctness has no place in effective educational policies.

Michael J Smith is a former teacher and until recently clerk to a school governing body in Norfolk

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