HL Deb 04 December 1990 vol 524 cc93-5

2.48 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their current estimate of the increased workload on school governors as a result of the Education Reform Act 1988.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, a recent National Foundation for Educational Research survey found that the average amount of time spent by governors on their duties was 10 hours a term rising to 20 hours for heads and 30 for chairmen. Comparable figures are not available, but before the Education Reform Act the responsibilities were neither as demanding nor as rewarding as governors now feel them to be.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Compared with the amount of time that I spend on a governing body, I am rather surprised that those duties take so little time.

Are the Government anxious about the reported increase in membership turnover between 1988 and 1990? Are the Government content that 4 per cent. of posts were vacant at the time of the National Foundation for Educational Research survey and that representation of governing bodies is well enough spread throughout the community?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the NFER survey to which I referred shows that in the three terms to spring 1990 10 per cent. of the posts were vacant but that 15 per cent. of members had been appointed within the year, suggesting that the turnover is falling as governing bodies settle down in their new jobs.

With regard to the second question, we are disappointed that the spread is not as it should be, and that so few blue-collar workers and people from ethnic minorities are members of governing bodies. We hope to target those groups in the future.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, will the Minister tell us how he will target the difficult areas? Is the Minister aware that it is more difficult in some schools in the central areas of our great cities—London, Birmingham and Manchester—to appoint school governors? Is he satisfied that enough business people are coming forward in recognition of the difficult task in those schools?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I appreciate the difficulty. The figure has not been calculated. I believe that in 1989 there was a campaign to appoint additional governors from a wider spread. However, we have no firm plans on how to achieve that.

The noble Baroness asked about composition. Most chairmen were agreed that the balance of people, skills and interests on their governing bodies were satisfactory. Compared with the population at large the governors surveyed were well qualified. Fifty-seven per cent. of chairmen and 44 per cent. of other governors held degrees or professional qualifications. One in five was employed in industry and commerce. The figures for chairmen were 14 per cent. and 21 per cent. respectively.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, has the Minister read the latest account of Labour Party education policy? The Labour Party intends to restore the stranglehold of local education authorities upon the schools. If we had the misfortune to have a Labour Government, is it not possible that people would not wish to be governors?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his supplementary question. I suffered some years ago when we became familiar with what was known as the little red book.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, the Minister refers to new jobs. School governors and school managers have existed for the past 50 years. Time did not start with the passing of the Education Reform Act. Those people were in place generations before that and doing a good job.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, it is a new role for governors, not a new job.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will the Minister tell us what the new role is?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, it is specified in great detail in the Act. Perhaps I may say—with a slight insight, having been a governor of four schools over 20 years—that before the reforms the job was undemanding and dull; after the reforms it is extremely stimulating.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I must correct what the noble Lord said about the job of a school governor.

Noble Lords


Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I may correct what the noble Lord has just said. Having been a school governor for many years in a variety of schools, I never found the job boring or undemanding. Is the Minister aware that there is the most serious shortage and the biggest turnover of school governors in inner city schools? Can he tell the House what the Government intend to do about the shortages in those schools where the need for highly-qualified governors is greatest?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness has great experience in these matters. Now that the results of the Education Reform Act are settling down we believe that the problem will be self-correcting.