...party-political paperwork. Karen Thornton reports on a TES-sponsored survey of governors' likes and dislikes.
MINISTERS have caught the governor Zeitgeist with their plans to relax the requirements for holding an annual meeting with parents.
The meetings come second only to bureaucracy on governors' hate-lists, according to an annual survey carried out by the National Association of Governors and Managers and sponsored by The TES.
The volume of often poor-quality paperwork issuing from the Department for Education and Skills remains governors' top gripe, with much of it described as "party political propaganda", jargon-ridden, and a waste of time.
The survey, now in its fourth year, shows a remarkable level of consistency since 1999 on what governors do and don't like about their volunteer work - and what they think should and should not be their responsibility.
But there are also notable changes with implications for key government policies. For example, 83 per cent of respondents have embraced the appraisal of headteachers - compared to only 55 per cent of a smaller survey group in 1999, when the role was first mooted.
However, governors are less enamoured of having to decide staff levels - support for this is down from 66 per cent last year to 59 per cent. Yet remodelling of the workforce to reduce teacher workload will be a key task in the coming years. The Government envisages more and better-qualified teaching assistants and other support staff freeing up teachers. It signed an historic workload agreement with most of the teacher unions last month, but the two governor organisations were excluded from the deal and discussions about it.
Governors are also grasping the nettle of their curriculum responsibilities - an area many previously viewed as the proper remit of teachers. Support now stands at 80 per cent of respondents, up five percentage points on last year.
Jane Phillips, NAGM's chair and co-author of the survey, said: "The increase in acceptance of responsibility for monitoring the curriculum shows a growing confidence in this area and mirrors the significant rise in acceptance of responsibility for 'raising standards'."
However, in most other areas requiring professional knowledge and expertise, governors would rather have school or LEA professionals in charge. No more than half of the 522 respondents felt they should carry the can for staff discipline, promotion, performance management and pay decisions, liaison with parents over Ofsted inspections, setting key stage targets, and ensuring children's statemented special needs are met.
A consistent 63 to 64 per cent of governors want to retain their involvement in staff appointments. But when it comes to staff pay, only 37 per cent are interested - down from 44 per cent last year. Mrs Phillips suggests this reflects the increasing complexity of the system (for example, the linking of performance to progression up the upper pay spine, post threshold), and the lack of detailed support or guidance for governors.
Paperwork is reviled, and for the first time governors question the number of policies they are expected to draw up, monitor, review and evaluate - and whether this adds any value to children's education.
"Respondents used very forceful terms about incoming paperwork - they spoke of a never-ending bombardment with new rules, 'glossy government literature that borders on party political propaganda', sifting through endless paper, paper mountains describing the Government's 'flavour of the month'," said Mrs Phillips.
"They also complained about the quality of the paperwork they received - in terms of length, jargon and lack of fitness for purpose and the level of duplication."
Government "interference" and poorly thought-out initiatives - such as the current reconstitution of governing bodies barely three years after the last changes - were viewed as wasting precious time. Lack of support - often over serious issues including incompetent heads and private finance initiatives - was also a problem.
Despite 83 per cent of governors saying they should be responsible for the annual parents' meeting, many complained that they were "so poorly attended as to be a waste of time". Things could change next year. The DfES is relaxing the regulations on how meetings are run, and schools that come up with a better way of ensuring accountability to parents could be allowed to opt out of them altogether.
Refreshingly, the attractions of being a governor have remained broadly similar over the past four years. As with teachers, working with and for children is a prime motivation and joy. Children's happiness and their development were deemed of equal importance.
"Governing body responsibilities - Four Years On", by Jane Phillips and Mike Fuller, is downloadable from the NAGM website, www.nagm.org.uk. Survey findings based on 522 postal questionnaires returned by two groups of governors: a smaller cohort that has been running for four years, and a larger group of mostly chairs running for two years. There was little variation in opinion between the two.
LEAGUE TABLE POSITIONS
School aims and policies 99 98
Headteacher appointments 96 97
Budget monitoring 94 95
Pupil discipline policies 89 89
School development plan 88 87
Curriculum monitoring 83 78
Annual parents meeting 83 82
Headteacher appraisal 83 71
Pupil exclusions 81 80
Setting school budget 76 81
Conduct of school 70 72
Admissions 69 67
Appointing staff 63 64
Premises outside school hours 50 50
Setting key stage targets 43 38
Statemented special needs pupils 40 33
Distributing Ofsted reports 40 35
Staff pay levels 37 44
Staff discipline 35 31
Annual pupil reports to parents 27 29
Pupil attendance register 8 4