Tangled up in red tape

19th May 2000 at 01:00
The Government's taskforce said governors add to bureaucracy. But David Sassoon says reducing the size of boards is not the answer

THE RED tape taskforce team's proposals on governors can be summarised under two headings; size and role. Clearly, the larger the governing body, the more difficult recruitment will be. Responsibilities of governors are directly linked to their role.

It is difficult to comment on the size of the governing body without looking at its role and responsibilities. The more onerous the duties, the greater the need for a larger number of governors so that the work can be shared.

The Audit Commission listed five functions of governors:

Steering: setting policies and budgets, and acting on inspections:

Monitoring: of plans, standards, budgets and achievements.

Executive: staff recruitment, discipline and appeals; and pupil admissions and discipline.

Accountability: to parents, and holding the school to account.

Support: for school and headteacher.

Four of these five functions are crucial - steering, monitoring, accountability and support.

Under the executive functions, I would agree that there is no need for the governors to become involved in recruiting staff below the level of the headteacher or deputy headteacher. While the governing body has a responsibility of reviewing andor agreeing the staffing structure, the headteacher and herhis senior management team should be given the responsibility of recruiting all staff below the level of deputy headteacher.

Also, the headteacher should have responsibility for matters of staff discipline. A committee of the governing body could covene when it comes to considering and arbitrating on staff appeals. The pupil discipline committee should review fixed-term exclusions above a number of days, cases where pupils will miss exams, and permanent exclusions.

From the list of functions that governors will continue to have, assuming that the above is acceptable, there will be a need to have a governing body of at least 13, if not more.

In the summer of 1999, governors had the opportunity of determining whether they wanted larger or smaller bodies. I do not think there is much mileage in altering that arrangement by shrinking the size of governing bodies (recommended by the red tape task force). If there are recruitment problems, we need to find other ways of solving them.

Many governors serve because they want to give back to society something they derived from it. It is the community spirit that motivates them. Some would be be governors, but are inhibited from volunteering because they cannot receive time off from their work. It would therefore not be unreasonable for the government to legislate that governors (like JPs and local councillors) be given a set number of days off on full pay.

In addition, governors should receive reasonable expenses, as councillors do. However, this should not come out of the school budget share. Many parents are prohibited from serving as governors because they are unable to make childcare arrangements at no cost to themselves. Removing such an obstacle will increase the chances of filling vacancies, especially in small institutions and inner-city areas.

David Sassoon is an educational consultant and governors' clerk in London

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