Sort out this identity crisis

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Governors are vague about their precise role. Compulsory training will give them much-needed clarity, argues Chris Gale.

FOR some time governors have had doubts about their role. This has left them feeling confused and undervalued by the Government and other people in schools.

Continual change over the past three years has undermined and fragmented the role of governing bodies. Part of the problem is the apparent refusal by Government to protect and enshrine governors' role in school improvement.

It could be said that governors have never had it so good. We now have our own helpline, a training programme for new governors and will soon be able to choose the size of bodies (see TES, October 4). In fact deregulation should fill our hearts with joy - we will be able to set up our own companies and design our own contract. But are we all ready for this?

First, we need to clarify exactly what is expected of the governing body - in school improvement, the employment of staff and within the school leadership hierarchy. We must also define the training we need to improve our performance.

One crucial question: are governors school leaders? It depends whom you ask. The Office for Standards in Education sees governing bodies as part of the school leadership and management of the school, but others do not. The National College for School Leadership is one.

During consultations on the National Professional Qualification for Headship, the National Governors' Council asked to see the part of the syllabus that covered working with the governing body - and was told that it was confidential. So much for consultation!

We are now told that the Department for Education and Skills and the national college are working together to ensure heads' training includes the roles and responsibilities of governors and the head's working relationship with them.

Senior ministers are also at fault. Both education ministers and the Chancellor have made references to "grants being given directly to heads" to spend as they please. What then is the position of the governing body in this? Is this money not part of the budgeting process for which governing bodies have ultimate responsibility? Do we have no say at all?

The Secretary of State has, however, seen fit to expect governing bodies to make the ultimate decision in schools on which teachers on the upper scale should receive post-threshold pay awards - without criteria being set. Some believe we could be sued if pay awards are not made when they are deserved.

Clearly the position of governing bodies needs to be properly established, so heads and parents know how to deal with them. Two things are needed to help put matters right:

* recognition of the role and place of the governing body in schools'

leadership and management structure; and

* joint training for heads and governing bodies.

Such training should be strongly promoted to schools, and emphasise the fact that governors must at least in part carry the can for school performance. "On the job" support and training would be valuable - especially, for example, on upper pay spine awards.

The excellent Governance Matters, by the National Co-ordinators of Governor Services and the Education Network (see TES, September 13), highlighted the low take-up of governor training.

Surely the time has come to compel governing bodies to do a minimum number of hours of training (say nine) each academic year? The whole body could train or, perhaps, committees, who would then pass on what they had learnt to the rest. This training would be reported to parents for LEAs and Ofsted to see and would need to be properly funded, with courses and trainers properly recognised.

Governing bodies also need to value themselves more by taking up self-evaluation exercises and claiming expenses. Well-intentioned reasons such as "no governor ever does" and "it's taking money from the children" no longer wash. Until governing bodies claim expenses they will continue to exclude a large section of the population who cannot afford to dip into their own pockets.

Chris Gale is chairwoman of the National Governors' Council. Its annual general meeting takes place in Birmingham on November 16. The National College for School Leadership is holding the second of two conferences on "friends in leadership" on November 20. The conference will look at the role of governors in school leadership, selecting and assessing headteachers, and how the college can assist governors' work. See www.ncsl.org.uk for more details

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