I have just completed a survey for Ofsted about recruiting school governors, their role, and whether the Chair and Deputy Chair should be paid.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, evidently believes that more governors should have an educational background. However, I think governing bodies should reflect the best of the private sector, with a balance between educationalists and those with experience of the big wide world, both male and female.
As for paying governors? No, definitely not. First, it would take money out of the education budget, and second, we already have too many governors who are paid by the public sector – either still employed or retired, or local councillors.
Like so much of the public sector, many educationalists resist change. In my 10 years’ experience as a governor, I found them often unwilling to deviate from the status quo, despite evidence that change will lead to improvements. The unions don’t help. There are times when I question their priorities; it certainly doesn’t appear to be the children.
I heard Labour’s Tristram Hunt say recently that “we know by the age of seven whether a child will pass their GCSEs”. That says it all, something is going drastically wrong when so many children leave primary schools unable to read properly or add up, let alone communicate grammatically, which means they make poor progress at secondary level. Sadly, our prisons are full of the uneducated.
A good education gives you an enquiring mind, leading to all sorts of new inventions – from science to construction, manufacturing to retail. It allows you to learn and develop over a lifetime, enjoy new places, experiences, meeting new people and to explore all types of literature, whether holiday thrillers, history, biographies, as well as the classics. A good education means that the world is, literally, your oyster.
So, what schools actually need are governors with fresh blood and specialist skills: from business, industry and the professions, as well as communications, the ‘trades’ and the Armed Services. They need to help children (and their teachers) to understand why learning in its broadest sense is so important and not just a tick box exercise; people who can open their eyes to all the career opportunities I wish I’d known about when I was at school.
We want our children to aspire, to have ambition, doing something they’ll love for the whole of their adult lives but always with that open mind as they rise through the hierarchy or set up their own business. It’s not all about money; it’s about being fulfilled which enables people to lead happy, healthy, lives, bringing up their own children to have the same values. Parent governors are, consequently, a vital resource, bringing their own family experiences, work ethic, and commitment to constantly improve schooling, encouraging our future leaders.
Given the shortage of head teachers, and since few of them actually teach, I’m beginning to think that we should forget the current job description, and aim to recruit top class business managers as CEOs in the larger schools. People who have broad experience across the private sector or Services; good communicators who are also good project managers with that crucial attention to detail which makes things happen, people who are proactive and disciplined, can manage finances and property, as well as staff, and who aren’t constrained by a reverence for doing things in the same way they have always been done.
Supported by, for example, two (teaching) deputies, such people could make a real difference. There are some excellent young teachers emerging who love teaching – they don’t want to be distracted by all the administration now associated with greater seniority as many local authorities delegate these additional responsibilities to untrained staff in schools, adding to a stress culture.
Instead, these vibrant and effective teachers want to focus their whole attention on developing children and young people, as well as their teaching staff through appropriate training and mentoring.
Consequently, their progression should focus on what they do well, with a salary and career structure to reflect their success rather than one which encourages them to effectively give up what they do so well in order to advance their careers by becoming a head teacher with responsibility for things they don’t understand. This could be the answer to the growing teacher recruitment crisis in some areas.
The DfE is apparently working on a Green Paper to be published next spring, proposing further radical reforms to enable all State schools to be ‘released from local council control’ by 2020. In the Spending Review, the chancellor freed 6th form colleges to become academies, directly funded from Whitehall, saving £600m a year by cutting out LA bureaucracy. So, imagine the billions likely to be saved if all schools take up the chance to be their own boss.
Admittedly, some local authorities have very good schools, with strong supportive programmes to assist under-performance – but what about the rest? For many the problems started when education was merged with social services, and complacent local authorities took their eye off the ball, allowing standards to drop unnoticed as it became a secondary priority in departments run by social workers more concerned with nurturing than learning.
Upgraded or new buildings, changing the signage to ‘academy’ and introducing a new school uniform isn’t the whole answer but it can re-energise a school when staff and pupils realise the culture has shifted, making every young person really matter; everyone understands that more is expected of them.
Sir Michael has called for more focus on eradicating bad behaviour, and absenteeism is also a contributory factor to poor outcomes, especially amongst disadvantaged youngsters, so it is essential to have strategies to address this. But I’m not convinced that the statutory regime of fixed penalties – or giving non-payers a criminal record, which could affect their future employment prospects – will do the job.
Of course there are concerns about how academies are monitored, and Ofsted needs to ensure rigorous accountability. However, with LAs delegating so many functions, it makes sense for schools to give it serious consideration, so they can choose the right options to suit their communities.
It’s only to be expected that local authorities will resist further erosion of their responsibilities, and the unions will be less than happy. However, in many parts of the country, something certainly needs to be done to restore high educational standards. Children deserve better – they are this country’s future.