Business skills missing

March 29, 1996

Alison Utley reports on the British Educational Management and Administration Society's conference in Cambridge this week. Anne Punter was amazed to discover last year that the business community was not represented on school governing bodies despite Government guidance recommending their contribution to schools management.

According to her calculations just 0.3 per cent of 130,000 business employees in a large study were school governors and of these, less than a third considered they represented the business community. Most were parents and said that fact was their main reason for being a governor.

Ms Punter, of the University of Luton, believes her initial findings indicate the ad hoc interpretation of the Education Act 1986 which recognised the need for members of the business community to be included on school governing bodies. "The findings indicate a lack of clarity concerning the possible priorities and roles appropriate for business governors," she said. "There is also a lack of seniority and management experience among many of this group of employee-governors."

However there was much clear support for the concept and practical contribution of business governors. The few that did exist said they were able to offer many useful skills although these were not always recognised or used fully.

But the number was so small that Ms Punter felt it inappropriate to infer too much from the evidence base. An experimental group of "pure" business governors needed to be recruited so that their work could be examined and monitored.

The second phase of her study is now under way. Forty senior managers from 12 large firms with a total of 130,000 employees have volunteered to take part in the one-year study which runs until next year. Their work will be monitored with the aim of building up a profile of expertise offered - and used - in school governance.

Ms Punter intends to build up a portfolio of generic working practices and skills (such as strategic planning, decision-making skills, awareness of customer needs and motivation, team working and an unemotional analytical approach) as a tool to be used in any management setting and readily applicable to school governance.

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