State schools failing to find governors

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State schools are short of 40,000 governors, according to a report being published today. inner-city schools have been worst hit by the crisis, with few parents volunteering to come forward to help run them, say researchers at Bath University.

The shortage has prompted the Schools Secretary Ed Balls to order an urgent review of the way state schools are run, amid claims that parents are increasingly reluctant to devote the time and energy to running schools.

The current framework for governing bodies – giving them control over budgets and the hiring and firing of staff – was introduced by the Conservatives in the late 1980s as a means of increasing "parent power". According to the research, 45 per cent of state schools are finding it difficult to recruit enough governors to run their schools – with 40,000 out of 350,000 places going unfilled. in addition to parents complaining the nature of the job is too demanding, many people surveyed said it was difficult to get paid leave from work to carry out their duties.

"Many of the vacancies are in the governing bodies of schools in the most challenging circumstances – the very schools that need good governors," said Bob Wigley, deputy chairman of education at Business in the Community, which published the report.

"Recent waves of policy changes may have improved the performance of schools – but they have made the role of governors ... even more complicated and demanding." Their role has become "overburdened, overcomplicated and overlooked", according to the study.

The report's key recommendations are to make the job easier to manage and to give headteachers greater power over the running of their schools – and urge employers to give staff more paid time off to carry out governing duties.

Mr Balls, announcing the review, said: "We know that some schools have difficulty recruiting governors with the necessary skills and that, in some cases, governing bodies are not able to provide the right balance of challenge and support." He added: "We need to explore further how we can help governors to meet the ambitions we have for 21st-century schools."

Today's report also argues that the "historic model" for school governing bodies with teacher staff and parental representation "may not have the necessary skill sets to perform their function effectively, e.g. finance, property management and human-resource management".

It adds: "There is a potential lack of independence of view on the part of governors in that [they] may act as individuals or in ways that they perceive are in the interests of the group from which they are drawn, rather than for the school as a whole."

Governors recruited from the world of business could help bring a sense of helpful critical detachment, away from day-to-day school matters, the report argued. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats said that the report's conclusions merited serious consideration.