NON-TEACHERS WEEK: The School Governor | @cllrjimoboyle

non-teachersNon-Teachers Week is a chance for Labour members and supporters who work or volunteer in education, but aren’t teachers, to express their views. If you wish to join in, details are here.

Jim O’Boyle is a Labour councillor for St Michael’s ward in Coventry and a school governor at several schools in the ward. His blog about politics can be found here. 

There used to be a time when being a school governor, whilst time consuming, was something thought worthwhile and schools would be grateful for the involvement. Parents, community leaders and professionals could rub along, adding to the fabric and smooth running of the place whilst being a critical friend, supporter and champion of the kids. None of this can be done successfully though, without a top-notch and committed Headteacher.

I state from the outset that I have always had reservations about the role of school governors. I have long thought whilst the idea has merit, the execution leaves something to be desired. Where else, and in what other industry, would you give such potential power to often well-meaning, but too often misguided individuals? How many often strive to see the school operate in their image, or are left to exercise their belief that actually they know better than the professionals that run the school? That’s why it has always been important to have both strong management and a diverse make-up on the governing body which can see the school and its needs from the many different perspectives the governors come from; a counter-balance in other words.

How things have changed though! Ofsted now rule with an iron fist and they are clamping down on the, “well-meaning worthies” as Gove called them who are ruining our schools. The question is though: are they, or were they, ruining schools? Their criteria for being a school governor now is nothing short of being the exact sort of professional I always believed were there to run the schools in the first place.

I’ll give one example of this. Until recently, I was a governor at a particular school where I would attend various meetings to add my input. It became increasingly obvious though that something was wrong. Meetings were dominated by how the governing body could be more effective and conversant with the ever increasing and cumbersome demands of the Ofsted framework. Not only do you need to know what it is and how the school is performing, but you must also have proof to back this evidence up.

How would you get this proof though? A council school adviser gave the following advice: start reading the children’s books. Check the marking and its consistency. This for me, at one school, was the final straw. Surely this is the teacher’s role, I asked? But unless you can demonstrate you know what the teachers are doing, how do you know if the headline figures are correct he countered. So, I responded, do I become a pseudo teacher? No answer was forthcoming to that question! I asked two other heads from elsewhere about this advice and both were amazed by it. Certainly not, they said. Bottom of the class for that advisor, I thought. This is both worrying and counterproductive. Worrying because it is setting up governing bodies to fail. Counterproductive because it is driving often good governors away.

On the other hand, isn’t that exactly what Ofsted and the government ultimately want? A body full of new professionals. A new sort of worthy who will drive the school to do exactly what Ofsted want regardless of the needs of the children in the school. Taking no account at all of the make-up both of the area the school is in or the background of the pupils. This is not an excuse for failure as I have heard Ofsted say to me in the recent past, but a real recognition of the complexities of teaching and their charges. There is no excuse for failure. But there is no one size fits all model either. The sooner Ofsted recognise that the better.

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