What is the value of school governing bodies? Some schools might answer that it is considerable; they provide leadership, support, a strategic overview of the work of the school, etc. Others might have something less flattering to say. If we tried to fix the value of the work of governors in hard cash, what would we end up with?
In many countries the responsibilities that we give to governors are taken on by professionals, or, as in the United States, by elected paid representatives.
In New Zealand, where the governance system is similar to our own, governors are paid a meetings allowance, although not all governors claim the full amount. The "recommended" sum is pound;21 per meeting for members and Pounds 30 per meeting for the chairperson.
In the UK governors can claim legitimate expenses but, since they are charged to the school budget, few do. I was at a governors' conference recently where a vociferous contribution from the floor that governors should be paid was applauded.
But if the state had to pay for governance, what would it cost?
There are, to use the school teachers pay review body's imprecise figure, "around 308,000 governors" in England and Wales. What are they worth?
To determine the answer we need two figures: the average number of hours per annum that governors put in; and the rate per hour that governorship might attract in the open market.
Both figures are problematic. Those who would wish to understate the importance of school governing bodies might opt for a modest estimate, while enthusiasts might do the opposite. There have been a number of surveys but they all suffer from the problem that it is activists who (by definition) tend to respond.
The New Zealand meetings payments cover that specific activity, but most governors would say that far more than attending meetings is involved: there is the preparation for the meetings, the sub-committees, the avalanche of "guidance" and other literature that comes from the Department for Education and Skills and elsewhere, let alone the rather important matter of visiting the school itself. At the same time, it must be admitted that in school governance, as in any other activity in life, there are those who do the minimum.
School governing body meetings tend to be around two to three hours (although for some of us it might seem to have gone on all night), and most schools have between three and five full meetings a year. That figure might double for preparation time and for any sub-committees. Add perhaps two hours per week (in term time) for other activities and you reach around 100 hours per year for the average level of commitment. (For those who chair sub-committees the figure might be higher and for those who chair the governing body there is almost no limit).
If you think 100 hours per annum is too high or too low, you can adjust the figure accordingly.
What of the hourly rate?
The TES reported in May that the DfES had been paying consultants "up to Pounds 1,000 a day" (May 13, 2005) while the statutory adult minimum wage is Pounds 4.85 per hour. Let us suppose that the value of governors' time lies somewhere in between, assuming that governors' strategic, monitoring and "critical friend" roles are of equal value to the work of a supply teacher. There are slight variations (not so slight if an agency is involved) but we might average out the rate at pound;25 per hour.
We now have a simple sum. "Around" 308,000 x 100 x pound;25 = pound;770 million.
So pound;770m is the value of the work of school governors - or the amount that would have to be found from the public purse if governors were to be paid.
For comparison, it is estimated that a penny on income tax would raise about pound;3 billion. So this is a market valuation of our contribution.
Pretty good value, wouldn't you say?
John Adams is the chair of the National Association of School Governors