School governors must be tougher, insists Michael Gove

Education Editor

A school governor’s role is not just a “touchy-feely, sherry-pouring, cake-slicing exercise”, Education Secretary Michael Gove said today.

Speaking at the launch of the Inspiring Governors' Alliance, aimed at recruiting more high calibre volunteers to take on the role, he stressed they must be prepared to take tough decisions to ensure public money is spent wisely and pupils achieve good results.

“The thing about being a governor is that it’s not just a touchy-feely, sherry-pouring, cake-slicing exercise in hugging each other and singing Kumbayah,” he said.

“The whole point about being as governor is that you ask tough questions. How are our children doing? Is money being spent wisely? 

“In the course of the next hour as we meet - and it should be an hour and not three hours - will we prioritise the attainment and the progress of our students? Why have our maths results dipped this year? Who is accountable for the decisions that are being taken? Are all our teaching assistants really adding value?”

His comments came as research showed many schools are still struggling to attract governors, particularly in disadvantaged areas and in schools criticised in inspections by education standards watchdog Ofsted.

Two thirds of schools (66 per cent) reported recruitment problems, it said, and in many cases governors do not reflect the background of the communities they served.

In all, 96 per cent of governors were white compared with around 84 per cent of the English population, according to the 2011 census.

“Moreover, it would appear that governing bodies tend not to appoint head teachers who reflect the diversity in the ethnicity in their school’s population.

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors Association, which is backing the new alliance along with professional bodies, head teachers’ organisations and public and private employers, said governors should only go into the job “with their eyes wide open”.

“The survey - the largest ever - reports that the majority of current volunteers have professional or management backgrounds,” she added. “They volunteer because they are committed to making a difference to their communities.”

The launch comes at a time when governors are under increasing scrutiny as a result of allegations in Birmingham that there is a plot by Muslim hardliners to take over the running of some of the city’s schools.

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