Dr. Rose Blackman-Hegan – Propelo Senior Associate
Rose is a successful school leader and leadership development specialist - as National Head of Programmes with Ambition School Leadership, Rose oversaw the design and delivery of leadership programmes nationwide.
This apparent gap in knowledge was not from a lack of Department of Education (DFE) documents outlining the principles and requirements of governance. The first being The constitution of governing bodies of maintained schools, to which schools and local authorities in England are required to adhere (Department of Education, 2017). Three additional documents stand out that partner the statutory guidance and associated legislation, The Governance handbook (2019), A Competency Framework for Governance (2017), and for Academy trusts The Academies Financial Handbook (2019). They provide details on how to build and maintain effective governing bodies.
Somewhat surprisingly, in my roles as both a senior leader and as a governor these documents were rarely referenced. In my experience the culture and functioning of governance was led by an attitude of ‘ … this is the way we normally do things around here…’. As a senior leader I observed how easy it was to develop a defensive attitude to governors. Governor meetings being something to get through as quickly as possible but often running late into the evening, creating resentment and frustration by poorly chaired agendas.
Having my first governance role as a co-opted governor in 1993, the role appears to have changed little over time, especially in maintained schools. Whereas, Multi Academy Trusts have developed a range of governance structures and processes which are often more complex. What’s more, the role of governing bodies in trust schools sometimes prove to have fewer opportunities to directly hold leadership teams to account.
Drawing on my own experience of undertaking both the role as headteacher and chair of governors the following thoughts focus on what I wish I had known sooner:
- As a governor aim to be as informed as possible about the processes and procedures of governance.
- Have clarity on the boundaries of what are operational matters and what is of strategic interest.
- Manage colleagues’ expectations on the availability of governors and their ability to be actively involved in the school. For example for open days, recruitment of staff and attendance at sub committees.
- Keep in mind the motivations lying behind an individual’s choice to volunteer their time. From parents wishing to be involved in their child's education, to others taking advantage of employers providing paid charity work days or simply wanting to be more involved in a local school and community.
- Ensure all governors are familiar and adhere to the Nolan 7 principles of public life (1995); selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
- Develop a strong relationship with the clerk to governors and ensure there is a shared understanding of their role. (Clerking Competency Framework. April 2017)
- Join an online organisation that provides practical support and guidance, such as a guide on what questions to ask pupils when visiting a school or what the recent changes to the Ofsted framework involve. For example, Better Governor, National Governance Association and The Key for School Governors.
- Utilise a school/trust specific Governors handbook.
- Make available research on what makes an effective governing board, i.e. A review of the literature on the role of the board chair: What are the messages for chairs of school governing bodies? (CfBT, James, C. etal. 2012).
- Ensure that the training offered is of high quality and easily accessible, taking advantage of Government funded training opportunities wherever possible.
- If you do not know, simply ask.
In summary, the reality of being a governor will differ considerably between schools. Thankfully, information and support for governance has moved on considerably since my first experiences in the early 90s and the role has the potential to be hugely rewarding. Offering the opportunity to make a significant difference to young people, bringing unexpected and engaging variety to other elements of professional or community life.
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