Second time lucky?

14th September 2001 at 01:00
Two major consultations on governors in less than a year - what's going on?

The first one, launched at the National Governors' Council's annual meeting last November by the then school standards minister Jacqui Smith, triggered a wave of opposition. It was intended to cut governors' administrative and management responsibilities , and focus them on their strategic role of raising standards.

But proposals allowing schools to group under a single governing body, giving heads most of the "hiring and firing" powers over staff, and reducing the size of governing bodies - after they'd only recently been increased - were roundly criticised by governor organisations.

Early this year, ministers conceded they might not have got it right and set up a working group to re-examine the proposals. Its recommendations provide the basis for much of The Way Forward - A Modernised Framework for School Governance, published last week by the Department for Education and Skills.

This second consultation document covers some old ground. On staffing issues, it says governor involvement in appointments "should normally be restricted to the leadership group". New guidance will "promote" delegation of responsibility for other appointments to heads, but governors will retain the discretion to be involved. Decisions on staff dismissals will in future be made by the head, with governors hearing appeals.

Ministers have also stuck to their guns over reshaping and shrinking governing bodies. As part of a general move to deregulate, schools will be able to decide the composition of boards, taking into account their particular circumstances, but within certain parameters.

For example, boards should have between nine and 20 members. At least a third of these must be parents, and no more than a third school staff. Local education authority-appointed members would take up a fifth of places, with "community" governors - the new title for co-opted members - at least another fifth.

Governing bodies will have three years in which to move to the new structures - in recognition of the fact that the last reorganisation was just two years ago.

Bodies will be allowed to group together or schools to "federate" under a single board - an idea ministers are keen on. This might happen when good schools are supporting less successful ones; small primaries grouping together to exploit economies of scale in management (including governor support); or when "pyramids" of secondary and primary feeder schools want to work more closely together to improve transition to senior level.

A strong new theme that emerges from The Way Forward is reducing the sometimes restrictive and inflexible legal framework determining many procedures and practices of governing bodies and replacing it with "enabling" regulations and guidance. "We must free governors from activities that distract them from their primary role. We must give schools the scope to choose arrangements that suit their particular circumstances. The governance framework needs to be more capable of accommodating the ever-increasing pace of change so that it can continually adapt to meet fresh challenges," says schools minister Catherine (Baroness) Ashton.

One controversial aspect of the new proposals is a "behaviour code" aimed at "rogue" members, (see page 11). Another is a proposed ban on people who both work at a school and have children there becoming parent-governors. Such a move is opposed by the National Association of Governors and Managers ("Move to ban staff parent governors", The TES, July 20).

Under the plans, nursery schools will, for the first time, have governing bodies. Schools will be able to decide how long governors' terms of office should last, up to a maximum of four years.

Ministers have confirmed plans to take powers to replace failing governing bodies with interim executive boards. Members would in exceptional circumstances be paid. Governors will also be given discretionary powers to "extend" schools by providing services for the wider community, such as childcare and health services, although these would have to be funded from outside the school's delegated budget.

However, the DFES does not repeat its previous offer to set up a gatekeeping function. This would have provided a guard against extra responsibilities being thrust on to governors ad hoc.

"The Way Forward - A Modernised Framework for School Governance", is at Consultations close on November 7. Gerald Haigh's article on how governors can improve monitoring and evaluation work will appear next week


* Smaller governing bodies but schools to choose composition, within limits.

* Nursery schools to get governing bodies.

* Discretionary powers to provide social, health and childcare services.

* Governor involvement in staff appointments "normally restricted" to leadership group.

* Schools allowed to group under single boards, to improve working together.

* Staff will not be able to stand as parent governors.

* Behaviour code aimed at "rogue" members.

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