OVER recent years local education authorities have worked hard to cut red tape to provide a modern, streamlined and
cost-effective education service.
Efforts to cut back on administration and pass on more cash came to fruition in June, when figures showed that, on average, authorities had handed over more than 84 per cent of their education budgets to schools.
But it is becoming evident that, as authorities withdraw, the burden of bureaucracy is falling upon governors. That is why the Local Government Association has called for a national debate on school governance.
The Government discovered school governing bodies 20 years ago when they set out in law the current partnership model of representatives from LEAs, parents, staff and community co-optees.
Over the years, the 350,000 governors responsible for England's 24,000 schools have found themselves battling with more and more paperwork while contending with increasingly prescriptive regulations.
In 1988, governors were given responsibility for spending the majority of the budget and powers to appoint and dismiss staff. Recently, governors have been given more responsibilities, for example, for headteacher appraisals and deciding which teaching staff will be on the leadership pay spine.
As a result some schools
handle budgets larger than some shire district councils and governors have responsibility for more staff than many chief officers in council departments.
While it is understood that
governing bodies must be held accountable, it is also necessary to apply the same principles of efficiency demanded of local government to school governors. And this means a complete review of the current system.
As is well known, governors dedicate evenings to attend metings and school events. They take days off work to go to training sessions and take part in staff recruitment. For example, the training for headteacher appraisal is now six hours.
And all the while there are complex and time-consuming forms to fill in and procedures to follow. The latest idea is for only the chair of governors to receive Department for Education and Employment documentation at their home address and then copy and distribute to the governing body. This is clearly the DFEE using governors as the administration wing of government.
With governors barely recompensed for their time and work, perhaps now is the time to re-open the debate on payment. Part-time paid posts may ensure governors dedicate themselves to their task without neglecting their own work and family.
With reports of recruitment falling, surely this is one option that can secure better recruitment and retention from all
sections of the community. The highest levels of turnover, absenteeism and vacancies are among the co-opted members.
But the DFEE has a pre-occupation with threshold payments for teachers and little interest in the pay of support staff. The LGA sees the governor's role as helping the school to raise standards and not being subject to an ever-increasing set of instructions and documents handed down from DFEE officials.
Therefore LGA has offered to convene a summit on the issue of school governance. Invitations have been sent to the National Governors' Council and the National Association of Governors and Managers.
We now wait to hear their responses to find a way local
government can work with their colleagues in schools.
Graham Lane is chair of the Local Government Association's education committee and a councillor in Newham, east London. The LGA
represents councils in England