Who's In charge?

3rd March 1995 at 00:00
Joan Sallis contibutes to the debate on the powers of heads and governors. The boundary disputes about the government of schools use up a lot of energy which would be better directed to building understanding and reviewing attitudes. I've waited a long time to agree with a Secretary of State, but I did cheer when Gillian Shephard said that you could not legislate for relationships.

I don't even think the identification of boundaries is difficult. And I certainly don't regard the inappropriate behaviour of a few confused governors, combined with the reluctance of many heads to accept power-sharing at all, as sufficient cause for a re-examination.

Public opinion is not going to accept that professionals alone should determine the aims and policies of schools, and the alternative to sharing power with a mixed-ability group of almost always well-meaning lay people, is to share it with politicians. That is why the alliance of convenience between heads' spokespeople and certain elements in local government is so dangerous - for the heads.

As a governor I identify some powers I would perhaps sooner not have. For instance I can't be enthusiastic about debating teachers' individual pay.

But to suggest that governors are not at strategic level involved in management seems to ignore what the law says. If we have a role in establishing curriculum policy and, to that end, budget priorities, then the personnel functions, involvement in the macro-organisational issues and the opportunity to establish principles on discipline are surely the necessary implements.

If misguided governors try to get involved day-to-day in the control of space, time, people and teaching strategies, that may well be because they have not been given the opportunity to do their proper job.

The real problem is that a few heads paid lip-service to the role of governors and turned back sharply when confronted with the reality of what the law intended. They may have believed that all the participation nonsense would go away with the SATs and the league tables if you waited long enough, not realising that the two developments were historically and ideologically quite separate in their survival prospects. Or they may have deluded themselves into thinking that you could have the warm support schools want without hard work and a certain amount of challenge.

This group - probably untypical but noisy - tend, as soon as there's any kind of challenge, to say of governors "we don't know where they are coming from". It's true that a few will always have private agendas, but most of us, muddled and clumsy as we sometimes are, stay around because we think education is important, because we have an attachment to a local school, and because we think schools are addictively interesting. That isn't a bad start is it?

The best headteachers accept that the sharing is here to stay, legitimate and, in the end, a protection for much that they hold dear. The best heads of all see the relationship with us as a job worthy of talent, the ultimate test of leadership. Perhaps that is the trump card.

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