Veteran at the end of an odyssey

1st September 2000 at 01:00
One of Britain's longest-serving governors quits after 39 years. Janet Prescott reports

WHEN New Mills school in Derbyshire went comprehensive in 1970, governors were told that its two sites would be brought together within three years.

Dave Swinburn, then a governor for nine years, said he would stay until that dream was achieved. Three decades later, work has finally begun on combining the former grammar and secondary modern school sites, so he is at last able to retire - after 39 years service.

"I never thought it would take this long," he said. He became a governor when his daughter and son joined the school. He was a local Labour councillor at the time. He first chaired the board in l973, for three years, and has returned to the hot seat many times since. He's seen seven headteachers come and go, with introduction of comprehensive education, local management of schools, the national curriculum, national tests, target setting and now performance management.

"In the past 30 years, the greatest change has been the increased responsibility handed to us," said Dave, who turns 76 this month.

"In the early days most people could easily understand what it was to be a governor and cope quite well. When I started, we had the grounds and furnishings to worry about, but the county council would look afterthe rest.

"We now have a budget of pound;2 million a year to supervise. These days it's almost impossible for governors to know what they are about without training."

But - aside from paperwork overburdening teachers - he is positive about the way schools have developed since 1961.

"I know there are staff who don't like being assessed, but I think it's a good thing. In the past there were teachers who were just not up to scratch. Now, with systems for evaluation of performance, this is very rare. Relations are good and governors are encouraged to go into classrooms, to get a feeling of what teachers are trying to do."

He is also up-beat about pupils. "We are very fortunate, there is a good cross-section of abilities and backgrounds in the school and we've kept our sixth form. I feel very strongly that behaviour has not changed. Most pupils are well behaved and there are only one or two who cause problems. It's always been like that."

New Mills school held a presentation last term for Dave's retirement.

But he will be keeping an eye on that new extension, which should be built by Christmas.

Is Dave Swinburn Britain's longest-serving school governor? If you know of someone who can beat his 39 years, telephone Karen Thornton at the TES on 0207 782 3282 or email

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