School governor role is a potential nightmare
If I was a bit more photogenic, I could be a poster boy for David Cameron’s Big Society.
Despite knowing all the words to the 1980s Grange Hill song Just Say No, I am not very good at rejecting requests.
If someone needs a volunteer, I’m your man. (Although, the fact that I’m being asked makes me more of a pressed man than a volunteer).
Anyway, the upshot is that I am often found sharing my limited wisdom with young people at the local church youth club on a Friday evening. Lucky them.
And since last September I have been on the governing body at a school.
The role appealed to me because I went to the school and all my children either did or will do. "Giving something back" was the cliché that sprang to mind. And, as someone who wasn’t exactly a model student, it could even be described as doing penance.
Little did I realise what it would involve, though.
The man who twisted my arm into agreeing estimated there would be six to 10 meetings per year and a few visits to the school. He didn’t know that there’d be a headteacher resignation and an academy consultation process within the first year.
And that is where things have become a little more tricky.
For at all schools, hugely important decisions are taken by enthusiastic lay people who rarely have expertise about the inner workings of the education system.
To be fully up to speed, one has to have a PhD in acronyms and an accountancy degree. And, in order to do the job properly, any professional with a family has to perform the impossible trick of making time.
While it is a rewarding role, it is very hard work. And it is going to become more difficult.
For, while the government extols the virtues of Big Society, the cuts hitting education are making it more challenging for Norfolk’s thousands of governors to be effective.
The selection process for the new headteacher was made so much more manageable by the presence and input of our school improvement partner from County Hall. As an experienced ex-head, his advice was priceless.
But school improvement partners are among the victims of cost-cutting. There will be fewer of them in Norfolk, and their visits to schools will be more sporadic.
The blow will be felt at almost all of Norfolk’s 440-plus state schools.
And it comes at a time when many governors and headteachers are trying to cope with falling funding and a feeling of flux as the government tears up strategies and heralds arguably the biggest education revolution for decades.
Thankfully, the real leaders of schools – headteachers – are very capable, and provide excellent advice and support to their governors.
But the ultimate responsibility for what goes on in schools does fall on the heads of the governors –usually a worthy band of parents, teachers, business people and retired folk with some time on their hands.
For something as make or break as the education of the next generation, it does seem extraordinary that such a burden lands on volunteers.
What is more extraordinary is that they – we – will now have to make life-altering decisions with even less support.
It will impact on the quality of schools. And the difficult task of finding enough governors could well become impossible.
posted on 17 May 2011 08:48 bySteve Downes