School Governors

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st January 1989.

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Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford 12:00 am, 31st January 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to review the effectiveness of legislation concerning the appointment of school governors.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

The reform of governing bodies is a key element in our strategy for raising standards in schools. Our legislation has ensured that governing bodies are now much better balanced and more effective.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

Does my hon. Friend agree that the purpose of the legislation was, among other things, to achieve a broad spectrum of representation on boards of governors? Is she aware, however, that the outcome appears to be a substantial preponderance of teaching profession representatives, who are also parents of pupils at the schools? In the light of the activities of the National Union of Teachers in encouraging its members to become governors wherever possible, does she agree that this could lead to a conflict of interests? Will she therefore keep the matter under close review and take whatever immediate action may be appropriate if it becomes apparent that the interests of pupils are not paramount?

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

Governors, especially parent governors, should be chosen for the values that they bring to the governing body as consumers, not because they have vested interests either politically or professionally in the management of schools. It remains for the parents at each school to decide which candidates to elect, having studied the curriculum vitae of those coming forward.

Perhaps it would help my hon. Friend to know that we are making arrangements for a sample survey of schools to collect information about the number of candidates who have offered themselves for election as teacher and parent governors, the turn-out for elections, the number of candidates from different sectors such as the ethnic minorities, and the balance between the sexes. The survey will also look at the background of parent governors, especially to assist us in ascertaining the business representation of the co-opted governors. That will give us information about the occupational background of all governors.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Is the Minister aware of the dire consequences of her Department's failure to legislate to prevent local authorities from appointing single party state slates of school governors? Has she seen the letter from two parent governors of Charlotte Sharman primary and nursery school, in my constituency, who have been unable to take in a governing body meeting with a quorum since its constitution in September because of the failure to attend of the three ILEA Labour members and the Southwark Labour member? Although opposition members have been willing to attend, and be nominated and co-opted, the two authorites in question have insisted that only their own people should be put forward to sit on school boards. Will there be legislation to deal with this, or shall we be able to amend the Housing and Local Government Bill to be introduced tomorrow?

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have at times made our views very plain about the placing of political one-party governors on school boards. We deplore this activity in local authorities of whatever political control where it is blatant as the hon. Gentleman suggests. We would much prefer the system that has always prevailed, whereby authorities allocate ward-by-ward representation on governing bodies. Where there is a balance on the local authority of, say, Labour and Conservative, or SLD representatives the ward schools will have some representatives from those elected for those wards. I hope that that kind of best practice will continue.