Wales politics

School governors 'could be blamed for failings' in Wales - Lib Dems

Fairwater High School
Image caption Torfaen Council has asked for permission to replace the governors with an interim executive board

Local education authorities may try to blame school governors for falling standards, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have claimed.

Two councils have applied to Education Minister Leighton Andrews for permission to dismiss the entire governing body of a school in their area.

He has agreed to one request in Cardiff and is considering another in Torfaen.

They are the first applications of their kind.

Mr Andrews approved a request to dismiss governors at St Albans Primary School in Cardiff.

An application by Torfaen local education authority (LEA) to dismiss the entire governing body of Fairwater High School in Cwmbran is on his desk.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Aled Roberts said: "The difficulty, I think, is the number of schools in need of improvement, whether then there will be a tendency for local authorities to adopt this practice in many more instances because of the pressure they're under to improve educational attainment in Wales.

"Once you do away with that governing body, the reliance is then on the local authority - and what do we do in those areas where the local authorities themselves have been criticised by Estyn for the performance of their own departments?"

Torfaen LEA has told the minister that Fairwater's governing body has shown it cannot sustain an effective drive for improvement.

It said there have been significant concerns about the performance of the school for some time, despite extensive work to increase educational achievement and address a range of critical issues.

The authority asked for permission to replace the governors with an interim executive board.

But the governors are resisting the move, saying despite a critical report from inspectors Estyn a year ago, the school was not placed in the lowest band of the Welsh government's system and is not in so-called "special measures" as some other schools with serious issues in Wales.

'Devastating review'

Rosemarie Seabourne, chair of the governors at Fairwater High School, told BBC Wales: "It's had a devastating effect on the community, which we are public servants for.

"The only reason I'm up there is for the pupils of Fairwater High School and for this community. They've had a devastating review in the local paper, including the council's own newspaper, where the comments that are being made are not true - our attendance is on target, our behaviour is good in the school.

"I'm really concerned for governing bodies. They are public servants, they give their time free of charge on top of their day job - they are committed, intelligent people, and to be told they are incompetent and not able to manage the school is quite frightening."

Mr Andrews is planning to introduce legislation later this year which would widen the circumstances under which an LEA could issue a warning notice to boards of governors, which is a precursor to applying for their removal.

Governors Wales chairman Terry O'Marah said: "The minister is very keen at the moment that governors challenge the senior management of the school, governors have got to become a bit more competent at understanding and analysing data, and where they're unhappy they have to make that unhappiness known to the senior management of the school.

"In the end, governors are charged with improving standards in their schools, and they have to be held to account for that."

There are almost 23,000 governors in Wales.

In its annual report on Tuesday, the schools inspectorate Estyn warned that in about a quarter of schools, governors have limited knowledge about performance data and rarely challenge or hold leaders to account.

It also say that in too many cases headteachers presented school performance data and other contextual issues in a way that hid the real issues, resulting in a degree of complacency.

Councils have had the powers to apply for the removal of boards of governors since 1998, but the Welsh government's confirmed that St Albans and Fairwater are the first two applications made.

The Welsh government said a decision on whether to allow the removal of the Fairwater governors will be made by the minister "in due course".

A spokesman added Mr Andrews "has made clear over the last two years the need for increased challenge and accountability to raise school standards".

He pointed to a report by Estyn in 2009 that found "many local authorities are not using the full range of powers available to them to help underperforming schools".

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