Personally speaking: A case of governor overload

Last week Ofsted issued a damning report on education in the London Borough of Hackney, and the Government sent in a special Improvement Team. Brian Weller describes the frustrations of being a governor in a Hackney school

In a passage which rang as true as any in the report by the Office for Standards in Education, the inspectors criticised the lack of consultation with schools over the authority's plan for "transforming Hackney." Consultation, like transformation, is a problem word in Hackney. The LEA and the core of the Council consult late and usually without much consideration for the consultee. A key example last year was a "consultation" over the Christmas holiday, after councillors had decided to withdraw a long paid recruitment supplement from staff, about how staff would like it withdrawn. By the time staff replied, the Council discovered that only governors had the power to vary contracts, passed the buck to schools, but reduced school budgets anyway by the assumed saving. I spent three days digging us out.

Six days at the Whitsun half-term was the time for consulting headteachers and chairs on the principles of trading services under which schools will buy in services such as IT and governor training. Thirty six pages of internal marketspeak were sent to them at their home addresses.

Hackney's new draft Education Development Plan was tabled at a meeting with headteacher, governor, and union representatives in July. It was sent to all Hackney governors in August, during the summer holidays. Comments were requested by 17 September, two weeks into the autumn term. Only around five of the 71 schools will have held governors' meetings by then!

This smacks of an authority covering its back rather than its responsibilities.

Ofsted inspectors, oddly, whilst criticising the LEA for non-delivery, say that Hackney governors have an outmoded view of what an authority ought to provide under local management of schools.

In an authority where it is impossible even to recruit a complement of governors, I hope the Improvement Team will have time to consider the unrealistic burdens transferred to governors by several years of hurried and excessive legislation. More hurried legislation is on the way, with a White Paper in July, schools consultation this term (organised by head- teachers and governors) and a Bill in the autumn. Can David Blunkett make time for some research on the impact of devolved management on schools and governors, and the realism of carrying it further, especially in inner- city schools with most to do and less resources?

My school is probably typical of governor overload. In the same month that my head teacher went permanently sick last September, three governors resigned due to work pressure or moving out. They were an architect, who handled our building issues, an ex LEA adviser who provided lay curriculum expertise, and a solicitor, who managed our contracts and appeals. Those skills are hard to replace. We still have vacancies for governors.

Because of the permanent sickness, resolved by retirement only this month, we have an acting Head and Deputy. They have performed wonders while learning on the job. Hackney's "transformation" management training did not include headteachers. Last term LEA personnel advisers told me that as Chair of Governors I was line manager to the headteacher. Once upon a time that was an LEA function. I'm streetwise, managerially, but allocating line management of headteachers to non-professional, part-time volunteers is crazy.

So, after our school Ofsted inspection in November we can look forward to filling the headteacher vacancy. Last time round, in 1993, that involved around a dozen meetings and training sessions. We can also try again to recruit the teachers it has been impossible to appoint in advance of our Ofsted inspection (most teachers elsewhere have already experienced one inspection, and don't want another with us). Then we tackle the 1997/98 school budget, hoping that the LEA's financial information service will by then be functioning.

That work programme would be taxing in an authority with political and professional leadership. In Hackney there is no overall political control, no Chair of Education, "one of the most impoverished urban areas in Western Europe" (Ofsted), and of course no Chief Officer in the LEA.

So, finally, the Improvement Team needs to impact quickly on the continuing vacancy for a Chief Education Officer, now in its sixteenth month and filled only temporarily.

The writer is Chair of Governors at a Hackney primary school, and Secretary of The Association of Chairs in Hackney Education. He writes here in a personal capacity.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'