Slow train coming;Briefing;Governors

25th September 1998 at 01:00
As new governors prepare for the first meeting of the term, Jane Martin calls for compulsory training

I have always found it very odd that school governors were not required to do some form of compulsory induction training. In an important public service the public deserves the best service we can offer.

In the early days of local management, the role of the governor was not as onerous as it is today, but even then Government recognised the importance of training and support. This is why local authorities were given the statutory duty to provide training, and funding was made available to do the job. Several years on, we know that governors are reluctant to spend money on their own training. We know that the provision of training and support for governors is extremely variable throughout the country. We know that many governing bodies are not as effective as they could be. So what's to be done?

In my view, compulsory induction training for all new governors should be introduced without delay - it would address all of these concerns. It would not be difficult to implement, since most local authorities already offer good quality, comparable programmes of induction training. It would not take much ingenuity to come up with a nationally acceptable framework. It would not need any new money because funds could be redirected from the existing budget as a priority. And, what's more, most school governors (and headteachers!) would welcome it.

Why do I think induction training is so important? Well, ask yourself: how does your governing body help new governors settle into the job? Did you know where to go for training? Was the provision in your area good or non-existent? Would you have felt much happier attending your first governing body having had some initial training (say a couple of three-hour sessions) to give you an idea of your role?

The 3Rs are still the most important elements of good governance - roles, responsibilities and relationships. If governors have any training at all, it should be focused on how they effectively contribute the lay perspective as part of a team. The priority is not to be bombarded with information in an attempt to turn us into experts on finance or personnel or, even, school curriculum. The priority is to know how to function effectively as part of that team. And we need to know that before we start.

Why compulsion? Well, why not? A laissez-faire approach is doing us all a disservice. There should be a collective expectation of induction training for all; it is not too much to ask of volunteers. It would be an important signal that we value school governors and want to support them.

We all know that getting off on the wrong foot can be disastrous. A little training early on could prevent mistakes made (with the best of intentions) by over-enthusiastic new governors. How many more under-confident new governors might make a more constructive start rather than wasting the first year plucking up the courage to speak. And wouldn't it be good to know we all had a basic introduction to the role which established shared codes of conduct. Particularly, perhaps, those who say they "don't need" training!

Jane Martin is a research fellow at the University of Birmingham. She is writing here in a personal capacity.

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