What keeps me awake at night - Engelbert and me - a life of service
What do Eurovision flop Engelbert Humperdinck (pictured below) and I have in common? We are both part of large groups of people who share common values. Apparently, Humperdinck has the largest fan club in the world, with 250 chapters and 8 million members. I, on the other hand, am a member of the UK's largest group of volunteers, with 300,000 members: school governors.
Just like Humperdinck's fans, we are committed and motivated. Unlike them, however, we do not sit around crooning "Please release me, let me go". Our purpose is to ensure that our pupils receive high-quality education and to play a key part in the effective management of our schools.
Despite views to the contrary, we are not about fundraising or cheerleading for the school. We set its strategic direction, ensure accountability and evaluate school performance; we are also a critical friend to the head, to whom we offer both support and challenge.
We agree to a four-year term of office and attend numerous meetings that can - and often do - go on for hours. We form and serve on less-than-glamorous-sounding sub-committees such as "Management" and "Teaching and Learning". We have to ensure that we have an adequate quorum for committees should we receive a parental complaint. Everything has to be documented and minuted.
And for this we receive no financial recompense.
The days we sacrifice to put together the school's budgets; the time we give up during the working day to liaise with architects about building work; the hours one of my fellow governors has spent using their design skills to revamp the school logo: all this is done because we care passionately about the schools in our communities. It is a huge, serious undertaking, one that is both enormously rewarding and not without its frustrations.
It seems ironic that the finance sector can get away with saying that it needs to pay the best salaries (for that read "astronomically high") to attract the best candidates, yet when we want to attract school governors we can only offer them a cup of tea and some biscuits if they are lucky.
You would think that seeing his Big Society in action would make David Cameron ecstatic, and that we would be well-regarded and our judgements respected. Well, no.
If we vote against our schools becoming academies, education secretary Michael Gove can declare us "unfit to govern". We can be removed and replaced with a new set of governors, selected by him, to push through the change just as he wants, regardless of our long-standing commitment.
Just like that, we're pushed out the door. Mr Gove would appear to be able to act with impunity. And it is this disregard for school governors that keeps me awake at night.
The writer is a school governor in London.
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