The Daily Telegraph’s Assistant Editor Richard Preston believes that Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments about ‘ill-informed’ governors risks alienating thousands of members of ‘the big society’…
Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw says that more professionalism is needed among school governors and that a proportion of them should be paid. He likens some of their number to the jury in the first Vicky Pryce trial: “In the worst cases, governors can be rather like the jury that was dismissed from a high profile trial last week: ill-informed and not able to make good decisions.”
That may be so – since there are 300,000 of them, the largest body of volunteers in the country, they could scarcely all be management geniuses – but is payment and banging the drum for “professionalism” the answer? “Ill-informed and not able to make good decisions” sounds like a useful description of some of the extremely well paid executives responsible for recent disasters in the NHS, for example. And who would be doing the paying, and at what rates?
When Sir Michael talks about more professionalism, he’s in danger of insulting the core of very hard-working and experienced governors who keep good schools on an even keel. In my small experience as parent governor of a primary school, I’ve noticed that there are plenty of people with significant jobs (no, not journalists) who devote many hours a week to the gritty business of staffing, salaries, building maintenance etc. They do so, in many cases, not because they’re looking for a political career (though some may regard it as a CV enhancer) nor even because they have a child at the school, but because they want to do some pro bono work for the community, and in doing so they bring all of their professional expertise to bear.
There’s already plenty of training available to governors, though you need to carve out a lot of time to take up the offer, just as you need to have a lot of hours in the month that you’re prepared to sacrifice if you want to serve on committees – and as at Westminster, it’s the committees that get things done. Remarkably, people do this for nothing more than expenses at present.
OK, so Sir Michael was this morning just making a speech to a think tank, and his thoughts are broadly wise ones. But he shouldn’t be surprised if he finds he has alienated thousands of members of what was once being called the Big Society in doing so.