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Trusting in goodwill leaves the structure unstable

There is confusion over governors' responsibilities, writes Jane Phillips.

AT LAST - someone is taking a close look at the appropriateness (or otherwise) of governors' responsibilities. The Better Regulation Task Force has taken the view that governors should not be involved in "operational matters" but should be involved in a constructive role - in strategic decision-making and monitoring. Emma Westcott (TES, April 21) has revealed the truth that no one dare say - that governors are failing to perform the impossible.

Exactly a year ago, the National Association of Governors and Managers conducted research into governing body responsibilities for the parliamentary select committee inquiry into governance. This evidence was quoted extensively in The TES and distributed widely to decision-makers. And no one took any notice. So what did the research reveal? A direct quote from the conclusion says: "There appears to be no shared understanding of the purpose of governing bodies either within the ranks of governors, or within and between the outside bodies with which governors interact. So the crux of the debate - identifying the core purpose of governing bodies - has by no means been addressed.

"There is a dichotomy at the heartof governance which several respondents alluded to. The governing body is a corporate body whose members are elected or appointed by certain interest groups. This body is now expected to carry out a substantial management function. It is understandable that there is confusion about the managementgovernance divide and the proper responsibilities of governors."

These respondents show a greater understanding of the tenets of organisational structure than do governments. In my working life, I have a professional interest in organisational structure. I find it fascinating that successive governments, through their antipathy to education authorities, have succeeded in producing a structure which is inherently unstable. The reason: governors are volunteers against whom there can be no realistic sanctions for non-compliance. If sanctions are applied, governors can just walk away. The structure has become dangerously over-reliant on the goodwill of volunteers. A year ago, governors were saying that that goodwill was being stretched to breaking point. Now that a government task force has echoed our views, will somebody please take notice!

Jane Phillips is an occupational psychologist, school governor and NAGM executive member.

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