Ash pearce - Labour Church Ward Councillor
Church's Labour Team, led by our Councillor Ashley Pearce

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Critical friend

A critical friend isn’t that person that always criticises your dress sense or tells you that you are drinking too much, this is the phrase most often used to describe a Governors relationship with the schools they govern at. A quick recap on the role of Governors. They give up their time for FREE because they have a sense of community and wish to help. Last year the Government floated the idea of getting rid of Governors in academies but quickly back tracked when they realised the leafy shires may rebel. They have also made it more difficult to become a Governor, inflicted more paper work and created more hoops to jump through. Yet still people do it. Governors oversee the running of a school, from appointing heads to authorising exclusions. It is a big responsibility made more difficult be the Government every week it seems. 

I recently became chair of Governors at one of the Primary Schools in my ward. As a teacher in my day job, I cannot advocate enough the CPD (career and professional development) this provides. Far better than paying an expensive consultant or toddling off to a course, go into another school. Talk to other teachers, see what happens and listen to everyone involved. Since I have been a Governor at my school, we have been inspected, so have had “cosy” chats with Ofsted, we have expanded so we have met with the Local Authority and most importantly, we have been running along, as a school does, as usual.

The biggest change in the last year has been the proposed and now staggered introduction of the new school funding formula. This formula has been mooted to change for years and there are good arguments either side, but its implementation has been a mess. Within two years all money for education will go directly to the schools. Good you may say, keep those meddling local bureaucrats away from messing it up. But that does negate the ability of collective buying and costs saving. It does negate the ability for a local authority to plan provision. And possibly most importantly, what if it goes wrong? What if a poor head is appointed or there is just bad decision making. Well, then it is left for the Governors to try and scoop up the mess.

There are other big issues with the funding changes. Funding depends on a myriad of things: pupil numbers, deprivation funding, Pupil Premium Grant, numbers of students with education health and social care plans, in year pupil movement and pupils being there on census day to name but a few. All of these things take paper work, admin and planning. Just the things that schools have had to cut back on since the Government has cut funding. On a side note, funding has categorically been cut, the “record levels of funding” argument a huge deceit when cost rises and pupil numbers have been taken into account.

But all of these issues pale into comparison when you go into school for Governors meetings. Because at 8am meetings or 7pm meetings, I see the dedication and professionalism of the teachers in school. I see teachers singing songs to year 3’s, I see teachers calming down the student with anger issues in year 6 and I see good teaching throughout. This in the face of 7 years of pay cuts, struggles to recruit and redundancies.

It is a Governors role to ask questions of the school they govern, and that of course is right. But I would also argue it is to question the Government that has made it so difficult to do so.

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