Norfolk schools need 700 more governors
An extra 700 governors are needed to carry out vital work at Norfolk schools – but unions have warned that number will only increase as more responsibility is heaped on the volunteers.
The figure relates to the number of vacancies the county council is trying to fill at the sites it runs, and therefore does not include any gaps at academies.
Recruiting governors is an ongoing battle for the authority and, while the current number is not significantly more than usual, the chairman of the Norfolk Governors Network admitted it was more than he had expected and 'higher than we would like to see'.
But two Norfolk teaching unions have warned they could only see the number of vacancies increasing.
Colin Collis, county branch secretary for the NASUWT, said: 'I believe the situation, in terms of seeking out governors, is only going to get worse.
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'Who would want to come along and spend their evenings talking in schools with the level of responsibility they have and find themselves having to justify what decisions they make to the likes of Ofsted?'
He said there was an 'urgent need' to consider whether the current arrangements were 'fit for purpose' given the potential upheaval on the way.
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The many changes affecting schools at the moment mean governors are facing increasing pressures.
'Proposed changes to areas like special educational needs (SEN) funding, which would see full responsibility handed to schools, and the move towards more and more schools converting to academies will all add to the responsibilities of governing bodies.
Andrew McCandlish, branch secretary for the ATL union, added: 'Pressures being put on governors by the likes of Ofsted could be a negative incentive. People are being asked to volunteer to do things and then treated as if they are quasi-professionals.
'I think that would be something to make people run a mile.'
Both Norfolk County Council and Stephen Adamson, chairman of the Norfolk Governors Network and newly-elected chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA), pointed out that while recruiting has never been an easy job, the current 700 vacancies were no worse than usual.
But Mr Adamson said he could see where the unions were coming from. He said: 'If the responsibility given to governors does increase, they are absolutely right.
'But at the NGA we are trying to make it more manageable – that has to come from government but we are getting encouraging signs.'
Norfolk currently has around 5,500 governors at local-authority maintained schools but should have a total of 6,200.
Vacancies are most difficult to fill at the small primary schools in rural areas.
Dawn Turner, development officer at the county council's governor service, said: 'People tend to be quite interested in their local school but they're not interested in one which is two villages down the road.
'Parent governors can also be more difficult to find in disadvantaged areas. They sometimes don't have the parental input and people have other things to think about.'
She said people were often put off becoming parent or community governors because of a number of misconceptions about the role.
Mrs Turner said you did not need to have a family member at school to get involved and anyone aged 18 and above, from a wide range of backgrounds, could volunteer.
A large number of vacancies arise because governors will decide not to carry on after serving their four-year term, but others pull out earlier.
'There's a lot of responsibility for people to take on as volunteers,' said Mrs Turner.
'Some people absolutely relish that, but for others the role isn't always what they think it will be.
'We try to explain beforehand how they will be responsible for things like budgets, but a lot of people go along thinking 'I can just go to a few meetings and help out at the school'.'
Mr Collis, NASUWT county secretary, said the volunteers could often be left feeling out of their depth.
He said: 'When you do find people who are willing, often they don't have the requisite skills. It's a thankless task.'
But Mr Adamson, who is chairman of governors at Wensum Junior School, in Norwich, insisted the job was very rewarding and urged people not to rule it out.
'Norfolk is fantastically supportive of governors,' he said. 'It's one of the best authorities for that. I don't think it's a thankless or un-rewarding job.
'You are working with great people and that can be very fun.
'More schools get a good or outstanding rating now – more governors should be feeling pleased when they get an Ofsted report.'
He said training was in place to help volunteers acquire the skills needed and they were not expected to be experts in all areas.
Anyone interested in becoming a school governor in Norfolk should contact Dawn Turner at the county council governor service on 01603 303361 or email email@example.com.