Super-human effort needed

17th February 1995 at 00:00
Simon Goodenough on why governors must gather evidence about the effects of school budget cuts.

Don't shoot the messenger! Governors really are doing their best and now they are gathering evidence to prove it. We governors take a pride in our schools, in all they've achieved. Governors are the community roll-call, in all its varied voices.

When we meet, we leave our vested interests at the school gate and work to achieve consensus. We are governors, not politicians, and govern in the true sense of the word. We respect the professionals with whom we work; they know their business.

We respect the pupils, their parents and their communities; we have volunteered to serve them; we are part of them ourselves. We encourage excellence and provide for everyone.

We agree about efficiency and effectiveness, but believe that we'll forfeit the value we've added if we lose our teachers and enlarge our classes.

The protests of the past few weeks are not surprising. Some have been militant, some apparently mild, but don't be deceived; they all are equally heartfelt. Protests and lobbies are democratically healthy.

Most governing bodies will not want to resign. Someone else will have to pick up the pieces and restore morale - if they can. Many governing bodies are considering issues or consequent responsibilities of the local authority. This can only be a postponement of the problem - deficit budgets catch up with you, next year if not this one, and next year the rainy day promises to become a downpour.

Of course, we all know that protest which may be containable in selected cases might become unmanageable on a mass scale. No authority could immediately cope with taking over all its schools' budgets or replacing all its governing bodies. The disruption would also take a heavy toll at a time when we all long for stability.

Each governing body will act as it sees fit and so it should, uninfluenced by any others. Let protest be loudly heard, where there is justifiable concern. Protest is part of the evidence.

At the same time, let other carefully measured evidence, one way or the other, be collected and presented as quickly as possible. In such a manner, governors will prove themselves passionate as well as practical about their problems. They will, I think achieve their ends, and they will preserve their probity when in future they wish to express their concerns on other vexing issues.

Governors have been accused of crying wolf about cuts, so evidence is needed. The National Governors' Council has distributed a survey on school budget shortfalls which asks simply for schools to identify whether they will have to make savings or cuts in their budgets and what those savings or cuts might be.

We already know that some governing bodies will have to make teachers redundant but it is important that we identify all potential job losses as these will impact on the children.

So we want to know about decisions not to fill vacant posts, decisions not to renew short-term contracts and early retirements agreed simply to save money.

Our survey covers teaching and non-teaching staff. As governors always try to maintain staff levels, cuts may well fall elsewhere but those too will damage schools. Building maintenance will probably suffer, storing up problems for the future. There may be cuts in book-buying for the national curriculum and for libraries, and decisions not to buy equipment such as computers, as well as cuts in curriculum advice and other services used by schools.

This is a preliminary survey which recognises that many local authorities have not yet set budgets and governing bodies will not confirm their school budgets until later. It will be followed by a more detailed survey on budgets and school balances in the summer term, which will open up the debate on the whole basis of funding and on forward budget planning.

Governing bodies that don't already have an association or group in their area can join the survey by contacting the council. Gathering evidence through the survey may well be the most important practical step governors will take in the next few weeks, so we hope they will make sure they collect the information and send it to the council. All information will be treated as confidential unless stated otherwise.

The National Governors Council. Tel: 0363 774377; fax 0363 776007 Simon Goodenough is chair of the NGC.

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