School governors have a lot to learn
By Alexandra Frean Education Editor The Times June 5 2007
School governors often lack the necessary financial and managerial expertise and are not qualified to assess staff, research suggests. Reforms have handed greater independence to schools and reduced interference from local authorities, but too little attention has been paid to the extra burdens this has placed on governors, the Joseph Roundtree Foundation says. The result is an army of volunteer governors willing to commit hours of their spare time "for the good of the school", but often without knowing what they are doing. Alan Dyson, Professor of Education at the University of Manchester and lead author of the report, says that schools in the most disadvantaged areas in the country find it particularly difficult to recruit and retain governors with the necessary time and expertise to take responsibility for a typical multi-million pound school budget. "This leads to schools being most desperately in need of good governance yet being the least likely to benefit from it. "Governors are supposed to function as a "critical friend" to the head teacher, but too often head teachers feel that governors lack of expertise makes it difficult for them to be helpfully critical, the report says. Governors are reluctant to make performance appraisals of the head teacher, even though this is a key part of their responsibilities. Elizabeth Ball, a governor of her son’s school, Sherburn High in North Yorkshire, said that while she enjoyed her role, aspects of it were daunting. "I was part of a panel of seven governors who appointed a new head. We had to go through 40 CVs and conduct interviews over two full days. I have held key managerial roles in my own professional life but I still found this hard," she said. The report, based on a study of 14 schools, found that the increasingly complex nature of school governance deterred many people from non-professional and minority backgrounds from putting themselves forward. As a result, governing bodies tended to be dominated by middle-class people, quite often from outside the school’s immediate area. It also found that governing bodies lacking expertise made little difference to the running of schools. As one head said, losing a secretary or a teacher would have a big impact on the school, but "if [the governing body] didn’t exist, you might not notice." The report suggests the creation of a group of paid, professional governors in each locality to sit on the governing bodies of a number of schools alongside volunteer governors.