Karen Thornton reports on a drive to bring much-needed private-sector
expertise into inner-city governing bodies
IN tough urban areas the shortage of governors is increasingly desperate.
Which is why, last spring, the Government announced a 'one-stop shop,' to recruit business people to vacancies for local education authority and co opted governors.
The School Governors' One Stop Shop - a charity largely funded by Department for Education and Employment grants with some support from industry - started up in January.
Initially it focused on six areas (Birmingham, LeedsBradford, LiverpoolKnowsley, London, ManchesterSalford, SheffieldRotherham) but has been extended to other urban centres.
It has been acting as a brokerage service - some call it a dating agency, linking schools to potential governors.
Staff visit private and public-sector organisations, selling the benefits of being a governor. Those interested logged on to a database matched to schools with vacancies. They are co-opted by being voted in by other governors in the normal way. Councils that don't operate a system of political appointments can use these candidates to fill education authority vacancies.
The hope is that the new recruits will bring in much-needed skills such as personnel, finance, marketing and strategic planning. The ultimate aim is to raise standards by improving standards of governance, according to Luton University academic Anne Punter.
She carried out research for Industry in Education, a charity supporting business-school links, which found that business governors were welcomed by heads, who valued their "uncosy realism, dispassionate friendship", and the ability to separate governance from management.
"These skills-based, 'non-executive' governors are complementary to those governors who are principally elected or appointed to represent particular sectors of interest. The one-stop shop is an efficient way of channelling skills into governing bodies that need them," said Dr Punter, who is now a member of the one-stop shop's consultative group.
However, as The TES reported last week (October 20), although the initiative had 321 people registered by the end of September, only 73 had actually been placed with schools. This compares with 2,800 vacancies across the riginal six urban areas.
Steve Acklam, chief executive, is confident the charity will hit its December target of having 550 recruits, and believes more people have been placed in schools than his own figures suggest. He says: " There would have been a lot of activity as governing bodies came back after the summer holidays. We don't always get feedback as quickly as we would like.
"Given how difficult I know other people are finding it, I'm very pleased - but of course I would prefer to have more. If we have 550 by December then I will be highly satisfied."
Governor representatives have suggested delays in placements have been caused by the "lethargy" of education authorities, but also that schools, too, may bear some of the responsibility.
David Wright, marketing manager of the one-stop shop, says: "There have been some delays in placing keen governor volunteers into our inner-city schools.
"I'm confident, however, that as more schools learn of the free service we offer, headteachers and chairs of governors will contact us directly; we will be able to speed up the placement process."
On the ground, there are certainly indications that more business recruits have been placed than the one-stop shop's figures suggest. Sheffield has placed nine candidates (one of these has resigned), but the figures suggest none of the 26 candidates found for 312 vacancies in SheffieldRotherham has been placed.
Eric Pye, head of Sheffield's governors' support team, said: "The numbers so far have been disappointing, but hopefully in the longer run it will benefit us, and any help is welcome."
Birmingham has placed 18 of the 21 people recruited so far by the charity. But its own efforts have already proved more successful. Staff working with a budget of just pound;5,000 have so far generated 125 new recruits. The one-stop shop costs so far work out at nearly pound;750 per recruit.
Phil Astle, manager for school support says: "We have realised the importance of following up contacts and leads very quickly because if you don't, you lose them. We have worked hard to turn expressions of interest into firm applicants."
See www.schoolgovernors-oss.co.uk or telephone 020 7329 3323. Copies of Dr Punter's research are available from Industry in Education, telephone 01923 853870.