The trouble with governor training

17th October 2003 at 01:00 that no one has yet agreed what it should cover. Emily Clark reports

Designers of new training for governors are quickly learning that you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

Governors themselves requested an official training programme, pointing out that heads, their partners in the leadership team, have been enjoying courses at the National College for School Leadership since 2000.

But six months before the Eastern Leadership Centre - a training body contracted to run many NCSL programmes - is due to launch the course for school leadership and management groups, the content has yet to be agreed with governors.

Neil Davies, chair of the National Governors' Council (NGC), backs the initiative but is sceptical that it can meet high and varied expectations.

He said: "This training will enable heads and chairs to start off on the same rung of the ladder and work side by side together. But, if you consider there are about 22,000 chairs and 24,000 heads, it is going to be an extremely hard task to please all of them."

Together with a course for chairs only, the programme forms the third strand of a strategy to provide more support and training for governors.

Early plans envisaged three sessions over a nine-month period. In the first two-hour session members would discuss their roles and relationships; in the second a facilitator helps them establish objectives and strategies for school improvement; and in the third the facilitator evaluates the impact of their teamwork. Optional activities, toolkits and case studies are provided along the way. The course is designed for a team of about four governors and four senior managers, including the head and chair.

This training is optional and not accredited, but a second course exclusively for chairs offers a Btec higher certificate. Before doing this, this the chair would do a self-evaluation to determine which modules they should attend. They could then attend group sessions or train individually with one-to-one advice and a self-study package. Both programmes complement the NCSL training for heads but use different methods.

Ruth Liss, project director at ELC, said: "Heads and chairs have very different audiences and we will reflect that."

But fears that the course will be expensive and time-consuming add to worries that it does not focus enough on the relationship between the head and chair.

Judith Bennett, vice chair of the NGC, said: "This is too much about school improvement. The relationship between the chair and the headteacher is crucial to the success of the school and we need something exclusively for them."

Fran Hollis, of the Information for School and College Governors, believes every part of the course should involve heads and chairs, and it should happen in their school. But others believe bringing in trainers would be too expensive and that not all subjects are relevant to both parties. Alan Stockley, head of Landywood primary in Staffordshire, represents the National Association of Head Teachers on the steering group designing the course. He says: "I would find it a waste of time to learn about the mechanics of chairing a meeting, as would a chair to learn about my report to governors."

Anne Grimm, a governor at All Saints primary school in Sutton Courtney, south Oxfordshire, for two years, was totally unprepared when she became chair in March. She said: "My biggest difficulty has been ignorance, not knowing the remit of the governing body and chair. I am the equivalent of a line manager but if governors do not fulfil tasks I am very limited about what I can do. Training would be hugely beneficial."

But can cash-strapped schools afford to fund the training?

"We are a small primary and the cost implications would be huge," said Mrs Grimm.

The NGC's Judith Bennett said: "Many governors are reluctant to claim anything because they think it could better be spent on children. I cannot see this changing unless money is earmarked by the Government. I am a bit against compulsory things for volunteers but would like it (training( to be strongly recommended."

The Department for Education and Skills will promote the training on the web and via the Governors Newsletter. The ELC is promoting it to local education authorities and schools and at conferences.

LEAs may build the courses into existing training and will decide individually how to market and charge for them. The training is being piloted by the DfES in the spring and the steering group is optimistic it will end up with a flexible programme that will please everyone.

Ruth Liss says: "We are listening to as many people as possible so that when it is produced they already feel ownership of it."

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