Recycled ideas and little real progress;Live issues;Governors;Briefing

12th November 1999 at 00:00
Ministers' response to the report by MPs on governors contains much that is worthy, says Karen Thornton - but they're going to find it dull reading.

Worse than that, says Bob Doe, below, is that we've heard most of the recommendations before...

OFFICIALS at the Department for Education and Employment anticipated at least three years ago many of the concerns raised in the education select committee report - and the solutions.

But with a Government that pays little attention to the role of governors in pursuit of its educational goals, investment in governor recruitment and support has fallen short even of priorities the department identified back in 1996.

The Government's response to the committee's concerns is apparently peppered with promised new initiatives. These include: better advice and information new terms of reference a code of practice for heads and governors recruiting governors with management skills training them in performance management quality assurance for training better support for clerks encouraging governor associations to work together.

But officials had already highlighted every one of these needs before this Government was elected, in an internal departmental review innocuously titled The Role and Responsibilities of School Governors. In it the DFEE questioned the competence of many governing bodies to carry out their arduous job. It warned they were in danger of being overwhelmed and that people were increasingly reluctant to shoulder the demanding role of chairman.

It also recognised that governors found pupil appeals, staff discipline and cutting budgets stressful. Inexperience made them prone to procedural mistakes that were quickly seized upon by the professionals.

Officials were also concerned that governors were reluctant to implement legal requirements with which they disagreed.

Just like the select committee, officials concluded governors needed better training, better recruitment and clearer definition of their strategic roles.

And just as three years later the department agrees with the committee that governors are not sufficiently appreciated for the essential role they play, so in 1996 it acknowledged that governors needed higher status to attract more capable volunteers.

That most of the practical measures proposed in 1996 have still only reached the planning stage suggests governors are not a high priority for the present Government. It also points to a disappointing failure on the part of governor organisations to persuade ministers to give them better support.

In the wake of the select committee report, Estelle Morris was expected to refer this week to a national training strategy.

But otherwise, since they were elected in 1997, Education Secretary David Blunkett and his junior ministers have had little or nothing to say to or about governors.

Whatever plans the department now says it has for improving recruitment and support, it currently is not even fulfilling the basic information requirement of checking all schools have governors and that they know how they are supposed to operate.

Thousands of new governors should have been appointed and elected this year but nobody knows if they have been.

All governing bodies have been operating under new regulations which came into force at the beginning of the academic year. But the department has yet to furnish governors with copies of those up-to-date regulations in an updated guide to the law.

Actions speak louder than words. The TES revealed recently that one authority alone had long-standing vacancies for 400 local authority governors.

Yet the department does not even collect figures on the numbers of vacancies or the success of the latest recruitment drive. Even now, it only plans to ask LEAs for information about governor vacancies in half-a-dozen target inner city areas.

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