Queuing up in the in-tray

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
Staff cover and healthy eating are just some of the items needing attention in the year ahead, writes Stephen Adamson

The toughest part of being a conscientious governor is not tackling the regular jobs - setting the budget, conducting the headteacher's performance management, revising policies - but finding the time to do the things you want to do for your school.

So, with the time upon us to prepare the menu for the year, experienced governors and school leaders will face a familiar situation, that of having a basketful of new "essential ingredients" from government, with the promise of more to come.

The big job is the continuing implementation of the workforce agreement. No teacher should now have to provide more than 38 hours of cover per year for absent colleagues, and preferably much less. You now need to be working on guaranteeing every teacher at least 10 per cent of their normal timetabled teaching time for planning, preparation and assessment. Although schools, especially primaries, will get more funds, employing more teachers will not be enough. Heads and governors are expected to look for innovative ways of providing cover.

You have to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. Producing a Publication Scheme earlier in the year was only the beginning. From January 1, 2005 parents and other members of the public can demand information from the school's records. This can be of almost any kind, although there are some exceptions. Governing bodies need to make sure that their schools are prepared, and can produce the information within 20 days.

The Government is issuing guidance on child protection early in the term, which places new responsibilities on governing bodies. You have to review your policy annually and it has to comply with your LEA's and local area child protection committee's policy. The guidance also specifies various procedures that you should follow, and states that all governors ought to have training in child protection issues.

And check you have a staff pay policy, which is a statutory requirement from this month.

These are all issues requiring immediate attention, but there are also longer-term ones. If yours is a secondary school, have you considered making it an extended school? The Government wants at least one of these in each LEA by 2006, so some pressure will be brought to bear on likely candidates during the year.

The Children Bill, expected to become law this autumn, does not make specific reference to schools. Its emphasis on endeavouring to ensure that every child is safe, healthy, happy and able to achieve will inevitably place schools at the hub of subsequent initiatives. All governing bodies will have to consider the wider role expected of their school.

Schools are expected to play a major role in combating obesity, through the curriculum and by looking at what is provided on lunch plates and in vending machines. You will need an up-to-date policy on healthy eating.

The good news for forward planning is the longer perspective on funding.

Teachers' pay increases are to be set over a two-and-a-half year period and the Government has announced that it intends to introduce three-year budgets for schools from 2006.

The coming months will also show how the proposed school profile is to operate, replacing the annual report, school prospectus, and other information the school has to produce. We should learn, too, before Christmas about the future shape of inspections.

For the final shape of the "single conversation" we will have to wait longer. The scheme is being piloted this year with a view to introduction in September 2005. Governors will be waiting to see whether this otherwise worthy attempt to reduce bureaucracy excludes governors from important dialogues.

The Government has completed the third leg of its training for governors with a national training programme for chairs of governing bodies. It comprises two courses, the first for chairs, deputies and potential chairs, and the second for joint training of chairs and headteachers and other members of the senior leadership team. LEAs should start delivering the first part this autumn, and the second in the new year. Both courses emphasise the importance of school leaders having vision and determination.

With the increasing options, opportunities and demands on governing bodies, they are going to need them.

Stephen Adamson is the editor of the School Governors' Yearbook

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