The thing about governors that really strikes you when you meet them en masse is that they are fanatics. Like Red Dwarfers or Elvis devotees they only have one topic of conversation. Certainly the ones representing their areas at the Department for Education and EmploymentOffice for Standards in Education conference did.
"They talked about education all the time," I told my husband. "It was wonderful, you would have hated it." He is a teacher, and though he is dedicated to his job he really doesn't want to talk about it any more. He spent his half-term manuring the allotment and clear-ing out the pond while I put the world to rights with my fellow education groupies. Reassuringly, although they all had a sound grasp on the wider issues, their strong commitment was to their individual schools and to children.
The theme of the conference, predictably, was the governors' role in raising standards. It is all anyone seems to talk about these days. It is just a shame that they define standards on such a narrow basis. Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, spoke for the Government. He seems to have decided that having become famous as the minister who doesn't know his tables, the only thing to do is to incorporate it into his act and crack the jokes before the audience does. Apparently the person most annoyed by his public lapse was his mother, who taught him his tables when he was eight.
Speakers from the DFEE and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority talked to us about target setting. They spoke eloquently of upper and lower quartiles and residuals. They never mentioned children. They apologised to governors for how complicated all this statistical juggling was, but my growing fear is that it is deceptively simple and simplistic. The aspect of their role that most governing bodies struggle with is monitoring and evaluation. I suspect that many of them will seize upon the nice round figure of 80 per cent of pupils at level 4 and feel they have fulfilled their responsibilities by telling their school to achieve it. How? Well, that's for the teacher to manage.
What no one seemed willing to admit is that real children cannot be put into a graph like house prices or sales figures. Improving results by 5 per cent this year does not mean that the following cohort starts from that improved position. What we are really asking is that the current Year 2 children should do 20 per cent better than their big brothers and sisters who took the key stage 2 tests last year. I am sure it can be done. I am just not convinced it should be attempted.
Professor John MacBeath of Strathclyde University was a breath of fresh air on the second day. He talked about school self-evaluation and presented us with tools with which to do it. We were promised copies of all his materials, along with detailed papers from all the other speakers, so I did not take extensive notes. The one thing he said that I wrote in capital letters in my notebook was "We must learn to measure what we value, not just value what we can measure." Yes!
Joan Dalton is a governor is the Midlands