The road to better value
IT is very reassuring for local education authority staff involved in supporting, advising and training school governors to see that their work is nearly always described as a strength in Office for Standards in Education inspection reports.
Even so, quality varies yearly in the same authority and between authorities. A common framework is needed based on an internationally-accepted model of excellence.
The South-west governor services benchmarking group has been addressing this issue since 1997. The group, which meets termly and numbers 22 LEAs, shares data on performance and improving quality assurance.
Some have focused on data collection and comparison, trying to evaluate comparable value-for-money services.
Margaret Hunt, manager of Swindon's governor services, hopes this will provide real benefits. However, collecting data that is truly comparable has been time-consuming. Different LEAs provide different services, or the same services in different ways.
She says: "We aim to see if we can provide better value for money than currently. We've already seen some benefits but we've got some way to go. We can't yet say, this is how you can get better value for money. We might be doing something well in Swindon, but someone else may be doing better at something else."
Benchmarking governor services is becoming common. The South-west group began work on applying business excellence models to governor training in 1998. The first ones looked at were not readily applicable. The European Foundation for Quality Management excellence model: public and voluntary sector then became available and proved much more adaptable to our services.
The EFQM was founded in 1998 by 14 big European companies and is endorsed by the European Commission. Now with 600 members, it provides support to private and public-sector managers on using quality management to improve services, boost employee satisfaction, and increase competitive advntage.
The public and voluntary sector model is designed to apply to the whole organisation. It can be scaled down for small teams within branches and departments. We found it essential that team members do this work themselves. The language of the model is not user-friendly, and needs to be rewritten.
The model identifies a series of "enablers" which lead to a series of "results". The five "enablers" cover leadership, people management, policy and strategy, partnerships, and resources and processes. The results are divided into outcomes for customers, people, society and key performance. Sub-criteria under each heading help illustrate where one might look for evidence of quality.
We amended the language and focus and have built in cross-references to "best value" - the Government's model for measuring the effectiveness of local government services.
The final version is short and user-friendly. The enablers' section refers to clear and specific aspects of the work of LEA governor services, and includes short lists of possible sources of evidence. The results pages list the work under the heading "customer perceptions", offering possible examples and core questions to be addressed in LEA inspection and best-value surveys. Relevant performance indicators are also included.
The South-west LEAs intend to trial different parts of the model and report back on experiences at a future conference, after which the model will be refined. We intend to pair up to review and evaluate each other's trials. External validation is important if we are to achieve this.
The group presented its work to the National Co-ordinators of Governor Services conference last month. We have developed a model which we believe is
appropriate to any provider of governor services and we look forward to colleagues' responses.
David Marriott is head of governor support in Wiltshire, and author of The Effective School Governor (1998). See www.efqm.org and www.local-regions.detr.gov.ukbestvalue