Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Being a school governor

When my first child started school, I thought there was no better way to be involved in education than to be a school governor - and in terms of getting to know the staff at the school, being welcome in the school and so on and so forth, it has been excellent. But the various authorities are conspiring to make the role completely unworkable.

You need to first understand that, although schools are pretty autonomous, they are actually answerable to a whole raft of organisations. There's the Local Education Authority, the Department for Education and Skills, the diocesan authority (if it is a church school), and Ofsted. All of these organisations - doubtless worthy in their own right - have to produce a continual stream of initiatives, policies, papers to justify their own existence. It is the governing body that is left to field all of these - a group of people who are doing this role in their spare time.

The budget for the coming year arrives late, is amended throughout the year according to the political whim of the Secretary of State or the rest of the government, and we are lucky compared to most schools in that we have survived so far without having to make difficult cutting decisions. For Voluntary Aided schools, any capital expenditure has to be 10% funded by the foundation authority - which means the diocese, for church schools - which means (since dioceses don't actually have money these days) the governing body - which means (much to their resentment - "Isn't education supposed to be free??") the parents. Some schools don't seem to have understood the implication of this - we heard of one which had debts to the diocesan authority of the order of £100000 (for a school with a turnover of the order of £400000 p.y.).

At the meeting last night, we looked at standing orders - no, not the bank sort, the sort of instructions that tell you how to conduct your affairs. This was an eight page document that we were expected to accept. Note that this is in addition to the Guide to the Law, a large manual that actually tells you the legal framework, and is replaced every couple of years, and terms of reference that each committee and the whole governing body are supposed to have, and the trust deed, which was why the school was originally founded (that few people ever know where it is). We were also given a list of 67 activities that the governing body undertakes, and asked to specify at what level the activities were taken - head teacher, single governor, committee or whole governing body. Inevitably, around 10% of these contained guidance that was not accurate with relation to the Guide to the Law.

The meeting last night was unusual in that there were no new policies that we needed to accept. Typically, we get a new one to look at each meeting - and we also have to keep under review all the existing policies on a regular (generally annual) basis. The number of policies that the school has is probably around 30. They are rarely as little as 2 sides of A4.

None of this is really related to anything actually happening at the school - even if every policy was totally spick and span, there is no guarantee that you are actually running the school in accordance with them. There are a couple of much more important documents. The first is the School Development Plan - which is the document in which areas for development in the school are identified, and strategies for development are set out and tracked. The second is the School Self-Evaluation scheme. This is a document which shows how everything that the school says and does will be reviewed on a regular basis, so that things that ought to go into the Development Plan can be identified. This is what most of us became governors for - to help make the school better.

Don't get me wrong. If you care about your children's education, by all means become a governor - it is an important role. Just expect to end up feeling gloomy about how this country's education system works.

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