Welcome aboard

15th November 1996 at 00:00
New governors need to be well read. Lindy Hardcastle offers a short list. Most governing bodies will have new members this term, and there is no shortage of advice available, both for them and for the governing bodies they are about to join.

Action for Governors' Information and Training (AGIT) sent out their latest do-it-better guide free to all schools in May. Finding and Keeping Governors puts the responsibility for recruiting, welcoming and retaining new governors firmly where it belongs, with the head and the serving governors. Describing induction processes as "haphazard and sometimes downright cruel", the guide gives sensible advice about the written material which should be made available.

School Governors: a Guide to the Law, published by the Department for Education and Employment, is standard issue. It is unfortunate that the current edition is dated 1994. A new edition is due early in 1997, but it should have been planned to coincide with the influx of new governors. Already suffering from information overload, will they really be keen to read the new edition in January, alert for changes in their statutory responsibilities?

AGIT's guide also suggests new governors need the school's prospectus, annual report, development plan, OFSTED report, statement of policies, a summary of the statutory instruments, minutes of previous meetings and lists of staff, governors and committee membership.

In the face of all this paper work, the advice "Don't understate the commitment" seems superfluous, but we are also told "Don't make the work sound dry". It is important that we help new governors see how the legal responsibilities translate into the realities of life in our school. What are the current issues for us, and how are we dealing with them? A welcoming phone call from the chairman of governors, an invitation to visit the school from the head and the appointment of a mentor to guide the new governor through the first year will all help too.

The DFEE issued its own welcome letter to new governors, with a cursory half-*page summary of responsibilities, a list of documentation required which seems to be standard to all the guides, an assurance that money for governor training is available in schools' budgets and a list of governor helpline numbers.

The National Association of Governors and Managers (NAGM) also issues a paper (No 32) entitled The New Governor, which gives a brief guide to how governing bodies are constituted and organise their work, a glossary, and a section on "How well do you know your school?" which long-established as well as new governors might well find testing. Like AGIT, NAGM has issued a series of briefing papers on a number of governors' issues. With so much to learn, governors may well prefer their information in bite-sized pieces (NAGM 0121 643 5787).

New in the field of governor information is the National Governors' Council. Some 17,000 copies of their Trigger Pack for New Governors is being distributed through LEAs and governors' associations, and comes in the form of loose sheets. It contains, among other things, a comprehensive explanation of education funding, possibly more than any new governor would want to know, but little about managing the budget at school level. The glossary of jargon - all three-and-a-half pages - is equally thorough. It can be obtained free from NGC (01363 774377).

The Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) produces Governors are People Like You by Joan Sallis (Pounds 5 plus Pounds 1 postage from 0171 354 8321). The montage of photographs on the cover, carefully balanced for race, sex and age, conveys the ideal rather than the reality. This is a book to be read a year into a governorship, when the basics have been mastered.

Also by Joan Sallis, but in lighter and more up-beat mood, is The Good School Governor in a Nutshell (Pounds 5 from AGIT. Tel: 01203 638679). Clearly and attractively laid out, it puts a human face on the legal framework, recognises, uniquely, that primary and secondary schools are different, and that the various types of governors have distinctive problems and strengths. There are charts at the back for information about your own school. As in school prospectuses everywhere, the cartoons appear to have been drawn by a bright Year 6, and I could have done without the perky little squirrel on the back. But in the spirit of Desert Island Discs, this is the one book you would take with you, assuming of course that you already had the Governor's Guide to the Law and the Instruments of Government waiting on the sand.

The Confederation of School Governor Associations in Wales (01222 265183) has issued its own guide for governors. With the support of the Welsh Office, this will be distributed to all newly- appointed governors in Wales. The loose leaf ring binder currently contains Part 1 of an induction pack, information about education authorities and their governor support officers, and a comprehensive glossary of terms.

Part 1 covers briefly but clearly all the major responsibilities of governors, for policies, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation, special needs, staffing, communications with parents and the community and inspections.

It also discusses collective responsibility, school visits, the pros and cons of grant-maintained status and the conduct of meetings. This is covered in some details with sample agendas and minutes from primary and secondary schools.

The tone is jargon-free and encouraging, my only reservation being the over liberal use of the exclamation mark. It will help new governors start off on the right foot and may encourage more established governors to review their practice.

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