Schools free to share governors under new plan

29th May 2009 at 01:00
Federated bodies could help heads and combine budgets in one cash pot

Schools that are struggling to recruit governors will be able to merge their governing bodies and share expertise under plans being drawn up by the Assembly government.

Regulations that come into force from September will allow governing bodies to "federate" into a single entity, while the schools remain independent and keep their names, headteachers and control over admissions. However, the federated governing body would have control over each school's budget, which it could combine into one cash pot.

Wales has more than 23,000 school governors, but some schools - particularly smaller primaries in rural areas - are struggling to fill vacancies. Across the country, 6 per cent of all governors' posts are vacant, a figure that has remained steady for the past decade.

Jane Hutt, Wales's education minister, told a cross-party committee last week that federating would help schools improve their governance and management. "It will enable governors to take a strategic overview of their schools and free up heads to focus on more important leadership issues," she said.

The choice to create a federation would be up to individual schools, which would be expected to consult widely on any plans. There would be no limit to the number or type of schools that could federate their governing bodies, but they would need to have a minimum of nine governors and a maximum of 29.

Similar arrangements in England since 2003 have proved successful.

Ms Hutt was giving evidence to the National Assembly's enterprise and learning committee's inquiry into the role of school governors. It was launched following the committee's report into the teachers' workload deal earlier this year, which highlighted weaknesses in the relationship between heads and chairs of governing bodies. The report said many governors were not doing enough to ensure heads had a good work-life balance.

Most of those giving evidence to the committee pointed to governors' poor training. Local authorities have a duty to train governors in a wide range of subjects, but standards vary across the country.

Hugh Pattrick, chair of Governors Wales, an independent organisation offering governors support and guidance, said: "We feel quite strongly that every new governor should have compulsory induction training. If someone isn't prepared to train, how useful are they going to be to the governing body and the strategic direction of the school?"

Jane Morris, director of Governors Wales, said the body was exploring training options, including online courses and a quality-mark system for school governing bodies.

The committee also heard that clerks to governing bodies were often poorly trained and lacked the necessary legal knowledge to give useful advice on complicated issues.

Mr Pattrick said: "The clerk is not just a minute-taker. They should be there to provide advice on regulations and help conduct meetings."

Representatives from the heads' unions ASCL Cymru and NAHT Cymru backed calls for better training for governors. And Gareth Jones, Aberconwy's Assembly member and chair of the committee, said it was "astonishing" that training for governors was so patchy.

In its evidence to the committee, Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, said: "In a few schools, governors do not understand their role well enough and are not well enough informed."

Over the past 18 months, inspectors found significant shortcomings in governing bodies at 12 schools. Some failed because important policies and action plans were missing; others because the schools did not meet legal requirements, such as holding daily worship, or comply with the national curriculum for Welsh or RE, for example.

The committee is due to conclude its inquiry next month.

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