HC Deb 11 January 1999 vol 323 cc76-88

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Betts.]

7.7 pm

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

As a parent of four daughters in full-time education and as one who was once employed in the profession, it has been a pleasure and a privilege for me to be a member of school governing bodies in north-west Leicestershire for more than 20 years. However, there is no comparison between those early years as a governor and now, and nor would I ever want to return to them. The role of governing bodies has changed completely following the implementation of local management of schools introduced by the Education Reform Act 1988. Every survey of governors since then has revealed the great time commitment that the job now involves and has referred to the paper mountain from central and local government and from the schools themselves.

I am delighted that the Minister for School Standards, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), is replying to the debate. Since her election to the House, she has used her 18 years as a teaching professional to excellent effect and she is widely respected in the world of education. She knows only too well the impact on governors of the huge changes in the culture of education during the past decade or so.

In the debate on the education White Paper, my hon. Friend said: We recognise the important role of governors… I am afraid that we have put a further burden on them… When the relationship between the governing body and the school is right, it is a tower of strength for the good of the children. When it is not right and when governors feel that they are burdened down with paperwork, it is a matter for concern."—[Official Report, 18 July 1997; Vol. 298, c. 656.] In my visits last year to all schools in north-west Leicestershire, it was clear to me that the Government have every right to be concerned. The chairs of governors of those schools—mainly village primaries—often said that they were drowning in a sea of paper. I requested this debate in an attempt to raise the profile of the issues.

Nationally, there are more than 300,000 governors and they are a huge and valuable resource. However, there is a risk that, as unpaid volunteers, they are being taken for granted and overwhelmed by consultation papers and new duties. Members of all governing bodies are increasingly concerned about the layer upon layer of additional responsibility and work that is being placed upon lay governors. Governors are unpaid volunteers: although they can reclaim expenses for expenditure incurred on behalf of the school, few do so because they are concerned about additional costs on already stretched school budgets. It might seem surprising, but many new governors are still not aware of the commitment and responsibilities that come with being a governor, while more experienced governors feel that they cannot commit more and more time to doing justice to their role. Recently, there has been a much higher turnover of governors in my part of the world, and we are not unique.

The issue is not merely the call on the time of governors—time which so far has been willingly and freely given: there is an enormous information overload. The continuing inflow of documents for the attention of chairs and members of governing bodies is reaching alarming proportions and is a disincentive for people either to take on, or to continue with, the role of governor. A cursory glance at the commitments for school responses in Leicestershire last term, and for some due early in the current term, reveals eight major consultations by the local education authority: on educational development, lifelong learning, behaviour support, nutritional standards for school meals, fair funding, key stage 1 class sizes, the new deal for schools and early-years child care. Soon, the LEA will be required to hold consultations on asset management, youth work, school organisation, special educational needs provision, youth and community education review, fair funding from April 2000 and the LEA Ofsted action plan. The Minister will appreciate what a daunting agenda that is for governing bodies and head teachers.

I do not criticise the LEAs; they are carrying out statutory responsibilities to consult and would be acting illegally if they did not do so. Central support staff in local authorities are as overwhelmed by those requirements as are governors and school staff. However, at the rate that we are going, something will have to give.

I have referred to the particular pressures of time and to the immense information overload for governors. I now turn to the issue of responsibilities. The increased responsibility in many areas requires a range and level of professionalism and expertise that few lay individuals can reasonably be expected to have. However, what is frequently demanded of governors, especially those who are chairs of governing bodies, now includes the setting of staff pay and conditions, professional development interviews and appraisal of head teachers, and, most importantly, the health and safety legal requirements. Following the delegation of health and safety issues to schools, governors have a corporate responsibility for health and safety regulation and non-compliance might constitute a criminal act that can carry severe penalties.

I have always supported increased freedom for governors in relation to schools and recognise that it brings increased responsibility. I believe that most governors are content to accept that responsibility. However, they are volunteers and they require training and support. Local education authorities are under a specific duty to provide governor training. In Leicestershire, that is very well handled within the limited resources available, but that is not necessarily the case elsewhere. One of the difficulties in providing up-to-date and effective training and support is that guidance material on recent educational initiatives is not as full or as available as would be ideal, nor are the resources typically available to LEAs for such matters anywhere near the levels necessary to help optimise governors' contributions to driving up standards.

The three key roles of governors remain to provide a strategic view, to act as a critical friend and to ensure accountability. The day-to-day pressures are such that the urgent can too often drive out the important. It is easy to forget that one's original intention was to drain the swamp when one is up to one's ears in alligators. Many of the extra pressures on governors that I have described developed in the years following the Education Reform Act 1988, but the past 20 months have posed additional challenges for school governing bodies through the major new duties placed on them.

The Labour Government brought into force certain provisions of the previous Government's Education Act 1997. The new duties now placed on governing bodies include the requirement to make arrangements to adopt a baseline assessment scheme for pupils entering primary education. Governing bodies must now adopt curriculum tests and public examination schemes with locally defined annual targets. There is a new duty on governing bodies and head teachers to provide careers education in years 9 to 11.

Finally, under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, governing bodies are required to ensure that schools meet limits on the size of infant classes; they must conduct the school with a view to promoting higher standards of educational achievement; they must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State on determining the capability of members of staff; they must set annual school attendance targets; they must adopt a home-school agreement and take reasonable steps to ensure that the parental declaration relating to such agreements is signed by every parent; and they must ensure that any school lunches comply with regulations prescribing nutritional standards. There is an additional duty, to which I have already referred, relating to health and safety of persons on school premises, or taking part in any school activities elsewhere. A recent tragedy in Leicestershire underlines the importance of that new responsibility. I have outlined only a few of the new duties to illustrate the extra challenges posed for governors.

Notwithstanding the changing priorities and despite the limitations on time and resources, the predominant role of any school governing body should be a strategic one. Governors constantly strive to establish high expectations, challenge complacency and provide a practical policy framework within which the school can thrive. However, the key to that is surely to have every post on the governing body filled, some continuity of local and national policies and properly resourced support from the LEA or school.

Governing is a commitment which, if carried out properly, consumes many hours of precious time. Governors are expected to share responsibility for the safe and efficient running of the school. Many governors are in full-time employment and find it difficult to persuade their employers to allow them time away from work to fulfil their widening duties. Some governors have to use days from their precious annual holidays to do that, which compromises their commitments to their own families.

At local schools, governor visits are often used to monitor and evaluate curricular work in the school—in my area, the literacy hour is under review this year. Monitoring and evaluating the curriculum is an area in which governors often feel out of their depth. It is very time consuming if it is to be done properly.

The pressures on chairs of governors are heavy; at different times, I was chair of a small village primary school and of a large upper school. As chair, one's work load is clearly much larger than that of other governors. One is in daily contact with the head teacher to give support, with frequent meetings to discuss special needs, budgets and new directives, to fill in consultation documents, or to consider admissions. The chair probably tries to summarise all the documents coming into the school to make things easier for the other governors. One must often produce much of the governors' report to parents and write letters to the local authority when one does not agree with its decisions. One must make and consider suggestions for the school's development plan—the list goes on.

I loved the role of chair of governors: it was one of the most interesting voluntary jobs that I have ever done. However, the calls on time and energy can become wholly unreasonable. We are rapidly reaching the position where future candidates for the chair will come only from the ranks of the retired, the unemployed, or those with some other means.

I remember that Sir Ron Dearing recommended that schools should be allowed to work in peace for at least five years. That would have given governors and teachers time to consolidate and improve the new skills that they had had to acquire during the previous 10 years. No one expects the world to stop for them, however, especially when social and economic change is so rapid. Our new Government, with an ambitious agenda to fulfil, produced even more pressure. I was delighted that our top campaign priority was education and that education is a main focus of our actions in government. Nevertheless, we absolutely must carry governors with us. The voluntary commitment of governors is already heavy and the hours are extensive. Many governors feel that even more delegation is undesirable and that governing bodies have been given enough powers and responsibilities to absorb. More paid staff, either in schools or in LEAs, are required to support the governor's role.

When it was known that I had been successful in securing the debate, I received some feedback from local governors with a substantial number of letters, faxes, phone calls and visits from schools in the county of Leicestershire. We should bear in mind that many of those people have performed that role for a decade and more. They have experienced all the changes made by successive Governments and are not harking back to some illusory golden era of governing. I shall quote briefly from that correspondence. The chair of governors at a small village primary school says: We are now implementing the various initiatives detailed in the School Standards and Framework Act. I am increasingly concerned that the governor work load is going to become prohibitive. In addition, the increase in governor responsibility and accountability does not seem commensurate with the voluntary nature of serving as a school governor. I do not think that remuneration for governors—as has been suggested occasionally—is the answer. I do, however, feel that governors are becoming a free substitute for the education authority professionals who are rapidly disappearing as more and more services and administration are devolved into schools. Aside from the increased role of governors, this devolution of services puts extreme pressure on the staff of small schools. A second letter states: It is slightly alarming to note the rapid way in which the role of school governor has changed over the last year—it may be increasingly difficult to find people who are willing to take on this job in the future. Another letter says: I have been Chair of a local primary school for the past 18 months. During this time, we as a governing body have seen the amount of our work load increase tremendously. The sheer weight of documentation that comes through from the DfEE and the LEA is such that I do not have time to read it all… I am aware that many of my colleagues find themselves equally beleaguered. We find ourselves having to concentrate on the everyday issues of running the school rather than focusing on strategic issues and those directly affecting the children within our school. I became a governor because I cared about my children's education. I now find myself dealing with a whole array of issues which have little or nothing to do with that education. I have to take responsibility for keeping them warm, safe, fed and partially educated at home. The balance of their education should be provided at school but governors cannot focus on that crucial part because they are too engrossed in the new bureaucracy of governor accountability. Frankly, it is labour on the cheap. Please help". I pass on to my hon. Friend the Minister that poignant and heartfelt plea.

As a governor in and the Member of Parliament for a constituency containing 50 schools and 12,000 children, I urge the Minister to recognise governors' problems and give them encouragement about the Government's support for them and reassurance about their future role. The weight of work and worry that we are transferring to volunteer governors seems neither sensible nor sustainable. We cannot go on like this.

I am grateful to the Whips for carving out so much time for the Minister to respond to a crucial issue. I look forward to her speech with great interest.

7.22 pm
Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

I congratulate the hon. Member for North—West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) not only on securing the debate, but on getting more than three hours for it.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman also on the many and varied points that he made about the increasing work load faced by our school governors. Over 25 years, I was a governor of different schools in Colchester and, for a time, the chair of a combined board of junior and infant school. Does the Minister think it wise to force schools with a combined governing body to set up separate bodies? As the hon. Member for North—West Leicestershire said, that has made the governor deficit, which exists in many places, even worse. There is a problem in getting sufficient governors to come forward.

I pay tribute to all the governors who have volunteered because, for the reasons that have been mentioned, the job is becoming increasingly difficult. There is more and more delegation, but many of us want some responsibility pulled back to the local education authority. Governors are being swamped with paperwork.

I am concerned about the financial and legal responsibilities faced by governors. In many respects, governing bodies are almost local councils or local firms. They run small businesses that happen to be called schools, but they do not necessarily have professional staff and guidance on tap and must seek it out. I am worried because many experts are now offering their services. Some of their work is paid and some is voluntary. One wonders what they are offering in return. There is a need for more professional staff to be on hand for governing bodies.

The term "labour on the cheap" has been used. I could understand the previous Administration wanting to run schools on the cheap, which is what these developments are about. My work load as a governor was continually extended because the professional staff from county hall and the local education authority were being withdrawn. Some of them set up firms, privatising the administration of our schools.

Will the Government provide the skilled, professional services that hitherto existed and are now increasingly provided by enthusiastic, dedicated people? I acknowledge their enthusiasm and dedication because I was one of them. When I started as a governor, I knew that there were professional staff to support me. I doubt that governors in many schools today have recourse to such staff. Will the Minister explain whether the Government will reverse that trend or proceed with further delegation?

7.26 pm
Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on securing this debate. We sometimes pass over the important debates that should take place in the House, such as the issue of school governors and the voluntary work that they enter into when they accept their post. Whether governors work for a primary or secondary school or one of the new colleges, there is a great deal to be done to support education in local communities.

I am receiving representations from local school governors about the funding of schools. The money that has been allocated by the Government over the past 14 or 18 months is being used to clear the debt that some governors had to continue carrying over because of the lack of support for education by the Tory Government. Schools were driven to dispensing with teachers and reducing services to which children are entitled. All that time, many school governing bodies were running a deficit. The money that has been allocated to education has been used, particularly in my constituency, to clear the backlog of debt.

I am sure that now that some of the debt has been cleared, we shall realise the benefit of that money. However, it will take time to clear up the arrears that school governing bodies had to run up because the Tories let down education in many areas. Governing bodies had to make ends meet and reduce their teaching staff.

School governors are often fund raisers, too. They make an effort outside school hours to raise funds to help with out-of-school activities, which were reduced when the Tory Government cut funding for them. We therefore owe a great deal to school governors for helping with the maintenance of education in our communities. Those issues are over and above the legal responsibilities and commitment of school governors and the burdens placed on them, which were outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire.

In many instances, school governors had to dispose of school playing fields to raise money. I am pleased that the Minister and her colleagues are watching that carefully and that there is now an embargo on the sale of school playing fields, which are very important. I hope that we are going to assist school governors with the development of more out-of-school activities such as sports. There are still many problems to solve, problems which members of school governing bodies want to tackle. They want to ensure that their schools can provide out-of-school activities, such as sport and agricultural activities which some teachers wish to introduce. This takes money and time, but school governing bodies in my constituency are working to that end and credit must be given to them.

I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire that we should recognise the dedication of many of our constituents who are members of school governing bodies and who do a great deal of work to ensure that the best quality education is provided for their communities. I associate myself with his remarks and reiterate his plea to the Minister to accept that there is a call from our communities for school governing bodies to be given a higher profile and greater assistance, through the local education authority in many areas. I hope that the Minister will respond to the points that have been made so that we can highlight through the media our appreciation and recognition of the work of school governing bodies.

7.32 pm
The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on securing this Adjournment debate. He is absolutely right to say that governors are key partners in the education service, and their work should be recognised and applauded. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) in welcoming this debate as an opportunity to do exactly that. I am in no doubt that schools work better when they have effective governing bodies to support them. If we were looking at the elements that made a good school, a good and effective chair of governors and governing body would be on that list.

I also welcome the contribution made by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell). I may have to differ from him on what I believe was his main point. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire that we do not want to go back to the days when governing bodies had no powers and decisions were made by local authorities. The answer to the question that the hon. Member for Colchester put directly to me—whether we would be centralising to local authorities some of the powers latterly given by both Governments to governing bodies—is no. That is perhaps a difference between our two parties.

When we debated the School Standards and Framework Bill in Committee, the Liberals argued strongly that more powers should be given to local authorities. I suspect that the hon. Member for Colchester overstated his case, but the new powers that this Government have given to governing bodies and which were listed by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire—they relate to target setting, behaviour plans and class size plans—are quite properly the domain of governing bodies. Such decisions about individual schools should be made by those most closely affected.

In a debate like this, we need to remind ourselves that governors are important because they provide the essential link between schools and the communities that they serve. They are independent, which is important, and they play a vital part in making sure that the wider local community is represented.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire will know that the Government have put at the centre of the education debate a wish, a determination and a commitment to raise educational standards in all schools. Certainly, governors and governing bodies have a crucial role to play in that agenda. The legislation that was passed last year for the first time placed a specific responsibility on governing bodies to conduct schools with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement. One might have supposed that that was what they were doing anyway, that that was their raison d' etre and that that must be at the centre of what they were doing. However, the legislation made that explicit for the first time, and governing bodies and those who represent them have welcomed that.

It is important to clarify in the new framework for schools exactly what the roles of governing bodies and local authorities are in raising standards. Although the legislation introduces some changes, the broad responsibility of governors remains largely the same as it was before the passage of that legislation.

I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire said. I accept that the legislation and many of the initiatives that are central to the Government's wish to raise standards have resulted in a flurry of consultation on specific aspects of that legislation, especially in relation to new regulations that will need to take effect before 1 September. I take this opportunity to assure governing bodies that we understand the burden that extra bureaucracy and consultation can place on them and that we want to minimise that burden so far as we are able.

Mr. Bob Russell

Is the Minister saying that governors already have burdens, and are they going to have extra burdens? What sort of central support do they get now, and will they get additional professional support in future?

Ms Morris

I shall come to the latter point in a few minutes. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire listed several consultation papers that have been published in the past year. I accept what he said but, in light of the Government's determination to improve standards and put education at the top of their agenda, it would have been strange had we not consulted governing bodies in the determination of that agenda.

The word "burden" has a pejorative ring to it, so I do not want to repeat it. Instead, let me say that there is an acceptance that the new framework and the Government's new initiatives and policies have meant more consultation with governing bodies in the past 18 months than was the case in the previous 18 months. I accept that it has meant an increased work load for governing bodies, but, given the parents' and the nation's wish to do something about the unacceptably low standards of education in some parts of the system, it was an inevitability, and I am happy to justify it. I accept that, having initiated that amount of consultation, it behoves the Government to assist governing bodies to respond to it as efficiently as possible.

Given the consultation that has emanated from recent legislation, I am keen to make sure that the flow of documents to schools from the Department is kept to a minimum. It is important that schools have enough time to respond to the consultation. I am conscious of the fact that, several times in recent months, the Department has issued many documents. Because we wanted to make rapid progress towards higher standards, perhaps there has not always been the amount of time that we would have wished for schools and governing bodies to respond. That is why we are redoubling our efforts to make sure that when consultation papers are sent to schools, governing bodies have at least 10 weeks—excluding school holidays—to respond.

We hope to make further improvements in that regard. For instance—this may be the type of initiative that the hon. Member for Colchester meant—we want to make greater use of sampling. I question whether it is always necessary, when we publish a consultation document, to request and analyse the views of 24,000 governing bodies. One initiative that we have put into effect since we came into government is to consult, on some consultation documents, a sample of schools and a sample of governing bodies.

Some policies are so important that all governing bodies should have the right to respond to the proposals and have their views taken into account by the Government. However, we are trying to develop expertise in sampling. If we can do so, it will no longer be necessary for every governing body to respond fully on every initiative that comes out of the Government before we can assess the response and develop policy further.

A large quantity of paper is generated locally through local authorities' consultation with schools—it does not all come from the Department or from Government bodies. That is why, on 29 July 1998, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment wrote, jointly with the chair of the Local Government Association's education committee, to all chief education officers about the need to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers, governing bodies and schools. The local authority education department often acts as a gatekeeper for messages and letters from other council departments to schools. The letter to local education authorities contained a framework covering gatekeeper communications and information requests, and urged local authorities to minimise paperwork.

In the past six months, the Department has run two pilot schemes—one in Kent, which is a large local authority, and one in Derby, which is a much smaller local authority—to discover how local education authorities can identify good practice in dealing with paperwork for governing bodies and others, and how we can spread good practice when identified. Those pilot schemes are taking place this year. We very much hope to learn from them, so that we may ensure that the burden imposed on governing bodies by local authorities is reduced, and so that local authorities may tackle that problem as central Government do.

We have asked local authorities to follow the Department guidelines by providing a simple summary of the issue contained in the document, and by making clear the status of any action that needs to be taken. As a Department, we have been doing that for some time, so in future there should be no need for governing body chairs to summarise documents for the governing body in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire feelingly described. I acknowledge that problem. The summary of the document now appears clearly on the front of the consultation document, as does a description of the intended audience.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the relationship between a governing body—especially its chair—and the head is crucial. If that relationship is not right, it not only creates an extra work load for governors, but interferes with the proper running of the school and the raising of standards for children.

There must be a clear division of responsibility between governing bodies and head teachers. For years, guidance from the Department has consistently emphasised the strategic role of a governing body and the distinction between governance and management. We want to go further, to clarify that relationship. In the description of some governing bodies that was read to us by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire, it was unclear whether, in the schools that he was describing or quoting, the partners were clear about their responsibilities and acted accordingly. I accept that that relationship needs working at. It needs good will, and it needs to be talked about and clarified. Because of governing bodies' enthusiasm for their work, it is easy for them to impinge on what is properly the role of head teachers.

The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 enables us to make regulations. We set out the terms of reference for governing bodies. We shall use those regulations to set out the distinct roles and responsibilities of governing bodies and head teachers more clearly than ever before.

We do not intend to use those regulations to set out a long list of the responsibilities placed on governing bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire mentioned those responsibilities. However, it is important to note that, although the law places responsibilities on governing bodies to make sure—those are important words—that statutory responsibilities are met, the law certainly does not require governing bodies to carry out those functions themselves. Governing bodies, heads and schools need to be clear in their minds about where the duty to make sure that the law is kept, and the duty to carry out what is required by law, start and end.

My hon. Friend especially mentioned governing body responsibility for health and safety. Governors' legal responsibility in that regard has not changed. Under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and associated regulations, employers in schools are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of their employees. I am aware of the tragic incident that my hon. Friend mentioned. I understand the impact that it must have had on those concerned, and the importance that it has in his community. I understand that the matter is now being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive, and that the results of the inquest are still awaited.

I do not accept all my hon. Friend's comments. It was necessary to bring legislation into one document, to meet the responsibilities of governing bodies within the new framework of schools. Much of it carried forward the contents of previous documents meeting a different framework of schools, and reiterated them in one body. We have placed on schools new responsibilities on target setting, for behaviour support plans, and to reduce class sizes to 30 for infant school children. Those are things that we would want the Government to do. They are things that parents would want us to do.

Sometimes a balance must be achieved; I understand the difficulties. On one hand, there is a desire for stability and no increase in work, and on the other, there is an acceptance that things had to change because things were not all right. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for North-West Leicestershire and for Normanton share that acceptance.

I always ask teachers, governing bodies and others to bear in mind the guiding principle that if the extra responsibility is about raising standards for children, we should all take on that responsibility. If it is a responsibility that stands in the way of raising standards for children, we should object to that responsibility. That is the guideline as to whether the extra responsibility is a burden or whether it is part of the wider standards agenda.

I am aware, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire must be aware, that a recent Ofsted inspection of Leicestershire identified LEA governor vacancies on school governing bodies as a particular problem. It may offer my hon. Friend some assurance to know—although I am not pleased about it—that the problem is not unique to Leicestershire. Governing bodies need to have all their places filled to cope with their work. Leaving vacancies is not an acceptable practice as far as LEA nominees are concerned. Schools need complete governing bodies, and I agree with my hon. Friend that in small schools in rural areas, where the governing body is smaller to begin with, vacancies can place an unacceptable burden on the rest of the governing body. I hope that, when local authorities are unable to fill their places, they will be prepared to consider a wider range of individuals, including nominations from governing bodies.

I understand that Leicestershire is now considering what to do in light of the Ofsted inspectors' findings, and I hope that the local authority will look at the issue more flexibly than it may have done in the past. My hon. Friend may be interested to know the results of some research that surprised me—research recently commissioned by the Department, and carried out by the university of London institute of education, into improving the effectiveness of school governing bodies. Some of the project's findings are relevant to questions about work load and recruitment. For example, less than 10 per cent. of governors in the sample said that their work load was not reasonable. Interestingly, in a similar sample, more than 50 per cent. of head teachers thought that the work load on their governors was unreasonable. There is a mismatch in those results; it is almost as though head teachers were protecting governors. Head teachers showed much more concern about governing bodies' work loads than governors themselves. We must think hard about what that difference in perception means.

The same research confirms data obtained from local authorities following the 1996 governor recruitment campaign: most schools do not experience significant difficulties in recruiting governors. In saying that, I am not minimising the problems for schools that do so. Many such schools are more challenging and in less affluent areas, where parents often do not have the confidence to stand as governors. With that in mind, the Department will be working with LEA governor training co-ordinators to produce information aimed at recruiting new governors to serve on reconstituted governing bodies from September.

The Government have a good story to tell in supporting and training governors. This year's standards fund includes earmarked funding for governor training in the school effectiveness category. That is the first time for several years that governor training has been earmarked. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire will welcome that. Governor training expenditure under the previous Government had declined to about £6 million, but, under our Government, expenditure on training governors across all categories of the standards fund is estimated to be about £10 million. We have specifically asked that in all schools, there is at least one governor who is trained in target-setting.

We want to ensure that high-quality training is available to all governors. We are concerned not just with making training happen, but with its quality. That is why we are planning to issue guidance on how governor training needs can best be met, based on the best LEA practice. I am aware that not all governors take up the training opportunities available to them. Some misguidedly think that, in taking money to train themselves, they are using part of the school's budget that could be spent on pupils. I know that all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate agree that governing bodies ought to use the money that has been set aside for training. That is in the interests not only of governors, but of schools and pupils.

We are working hard to ensure that departmental publications for governors are more user friendly. There is much work to be done by the Government on that; we always need to keep our eye on the ball and to update matters. A good example of such a publication is "The Governors' Guide to the Law". We have provided every governor with a copy, and we shall be revising it later this year to take account of the School Standards and Framework Act. As mentioned in the Green Paper on the teaching profession, "Meeting the Challenge of Change", we shall also be looking at providing more targeted advice for governors on specific issues such as appraisal, in order to make it easier for governors to identify exactly their responsibilities.

It is interesting that all Members who have spoken in the debate have been school governors. That is why they spoke with passion. The fact that they have contributed to this debate shows not only concern for schools, standards and pupils in their communities, but an understanding of the governing body's role. The House is fortunate to have many Members who have served as governors. That should further reassure present governors that their role and importance is truly acknowledged and will not be forgotten.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire—and others who have spoken—can take back not only to the governors who have written to him in order that their comments could be part of this debate, but to every school in his constituency, the fact that the Secretary of State and I and other Ministers are deeply indebted to governors for their work. We extend our thanks to them for the time that they put in, the challenges that they meet and the positive role that they play as partners in the education service. They are volunteers; they can choose to do different things with their time. They can choose to do what others do when they are not working or with their families. I think that they choose to continue to be governors because they know that their contribution can make a better school.

I accept on behalf of the Government that, not only because of the contribution that governors make, but because getting their role right is crucial to the standards agenda, we, too, have an obligation to ensure that their work is acknowledged in this House and outside. We shall do all that we can to ensure that governors are able to carry out their important task as efficiently and as unburdened as possible.

I have taken note of the comments made in this debate, and I assure hon. Members that I shall reflect on them. Although I am not pretending that everything is as unbureaucratic as it can possibly be, there is no going back from the important role that governors play in schools, for which I thank them. I thank, too, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire for allowing the House to pay tribute to governors and to discuss this important issue.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Eight o'clock.