It's all hard work and no pay

Schools are struggling to recruit governors from the business world. The Government needs to act now, writes Richard Downes
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The Independent Online

Schools need governors, but thousands of able men and women who could bring so much to education are excluded by a system desperately in need of review. Designed when the workload was less and time more freely available, especially to the great and the good, the current situation of expecting suitable volunteers to step forward in the numbers required is not effective.

Schools need governors, but thousands of able men and women who could bring so much to education are excluded by a system desperately in need of review. Designed when the workload was less and time more freely available, especially to the great and the good, the current situation of expecting suitable volunteers to step forward in the numbers required is not effective.

The work is varied and demanding. There will be several committee meetings a term, some perhaps in the evenings. There will also be working parties, involving both staff and governors. These will be considering a range of items: government initiatives and regulations (of which there has recently been a surfeit); health and safety matters; policies on homework, uniform, sex education and school discipline. Governors will join interview and selection panels, and are frequently invited to attend staff-training days. Sadly, there will be hearings to consider pupil exclusions and occasional staff-discipline matters.

The workload has increased to a level where now, the only people who can find time are from certain categories. Traditional housewives/ husbands, the retired or the financially secure, and the self-employed who can arrange their working day. There is nothing wrong with any of these groups, but they are a narrow section of society. To recruit a full-time employee with current management experience or special skills is becoming a challenge. The one thing the world of education desperately needs is intercourse with industry and commerce, and administrators and managers with experience to share with and gain from teaching professionals. Most senior teaching staff of my acquaintance – like all managers – are keen to discuss theoretical and practical situations to hone their own management skills.

Currently, employers are required to allow staff a reasonable amount of time off to undertake their duties as a school governor. What constitutes a reasonable amount of time off is unclear, and probably varies. Middle and senior managers, the very ones needed, are least likely to be released for the time required.

If the role of governor is to avoid stagnation, central government must find ways to encourage suitable recruits. Prospective governors should not be deterred because of threats to their income, career or status. Employers and employees need inducements – not necessarily direct remuneration. What about favoured supplier status for government contracts to companies who have achieved target quotas of school governors, or at least have supportive policies? Company policies on health and safety and equal opportunities are often considered; what about their policy on school governors? The granting of industry quality standards, for example Investors in People, could demand similar commitment.

School governance should be encouraged as part of career development and clearly seen as part of a company or profession's commitment to continuing professional development. Job applicants should proudly boast of it. Perhaps it could be an appropriate attainment or experience for contributing to professional status at member or fellow level, or for qualifications including MBA, of which school governance could even be an optional module.

Lastly, to avoid excluding those who currently make up such large numbers, some kind of payment should be considered for the unwaged or self-employed, or others who are not part-time seconded from an employer. If the Government seriously seeks to broaden support of and input into education, or if it wishes to give schools greater autonomy, then this would be the way forward. It may even lead to a greater exchange of ideas and respect between the teaching and other professions.

The writer is a management consultant and a governor at a secondary school

education@independent.co.uk

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