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We're not all right, Jacqui

Ministers' proposals for the reform of school governing bodies are insulting, writes Peter Kerr

Schools minister Jacqui Smith told the National Governors' Council's annual conference that governing bodies have been the "victims of their own success by attracting ever more demanding and time-consuming duties in an ad-hoc way".

This is one of the most insulting in a long line of insulting comments made by ministers.

We governors have not "attracted" these duties; they have been imposed upon us by the Department for Education and Employment in a seemingly random fashion, and with no consultation.

Regarding appointments, Ms Smith wants us to leave heads to appoint classroom teachers. Yet it is governing bodies who have to produce and implement policies on performance management, and capability procedures for poor staff. It seems absurd that a bad appointment decision by the head taken without the governing body might result in that same body having to invoke procedures leading to dismissal.

On workload, I note that Ms Smith will be "calling on education authorities to cut the amount of paperwork they send to chairs."

But it is her administration that sends me as a chair of governors a monthly pack and sends it to my home address. (I am increasingly concerned that the DFEE appears to treat chairs as a special type of governor when legally all governors are equal.) She goes on to promise a 50 per cent cut in paper sent to heads and a one-third reduction in the number of documents.

However, the former will be achieved by making documents available via electronic means and is therefore meaningless. The latter ignores the fact that the number of documents sent to education authorities and schools has increased three-fold since the last eneral election!

She also suggests that some governing bodies are "too involved in day-to-day management of school premises". There are very simple reasons for this. First, governors are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of all who use the site.

Second, decades of underfunding of state education, coupled with the tax-breaks given to the so-called "charities" that run private-sector schools, requires us to monitor every penny of expenditure.

Maintaining a 30-year-old building containing 15-year-old equipment is difficult with the minimal sums provided. The politicians will always tell us that they are spending more than ever before but the accumulated deficit is too large for the present funding to even let us tread water.

The fact that Education Secretary David Blunkett told the public that "he" was "giving" the money "direct" to heads showed total arrogance towards us governors and ignorance of the way in which schools, especially primary schools, access their funding.

These proposals reveal that outspoken governors such as myself must be causing the DFEE deep concern. They would not embark upon such an exercise in reform unless this country's 370,000 governors had not begun to ask serious questions of the government.

A cynic might suggest that 370,000 mainly middle-class, middle-aged votes are of concern nearing a general election - although if my experience of leading a superbly dedicated team is anything to go by, we governors are anything but cynical. But we are very angry at being patronised and treated with contempt - so maybe the Government is right to be worried.

Peter Kerr is a chair of governors, and the council member for parents and governors on the National Association for Primary Education

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