The conduct of a maintained school shall be under the direction of the school’s governing body’ (Section 21(2) of the Education Act 2002). Such a vitally important responsibility, yet it is in the hands of unpaid volunteers.
I have been a Governor since September 2014 and when I started, my school was going through a difficult journey, having been rated ‘Requires Improvement’ with Leadership and Management a particular area for improvement.
How do you successfully work with governors, who have their own competing personal priorities and commitments, to improve the quality of education and raise standards in schools? So, what’s the recipe?
Firstly, get to know your governors. I feel this is the hardest one to get right, but it is the most important. I needed to understand the culture within my school, particularly governance and this proved to be one of the most complex and important concepts in education for me to comprehend.
What I have learnt is that some governors develop strong allegiances with other governors due to friendships outside of school/governor commitments or from being a long-standing member of the Governing Body.
Different groups (teachers, parents, governors and the wider community) have a different reality or mindset of school life. Six years ago, governance was ‘old-school’, talking to staff, attending Christmas performances, and a fairly laid-back approach.
Some governors came with their own personal agendas which meant addressing key issues around school performance or improvement strategy was at times ‘difficult’.
My background isn’t in the education sector but within the Civil Service; where I have a proven track record of realising change through building continuous improvement.
Initially I found it difficult to persuade long standing governors to make radical changes. Little by little, I persisted with the introduction of smarter working and collaboration concepts. This included:
1. A toolkit to administer governors’ School Improvement Plan (SIP) monitoring progress and impact.
2. Introducing Governor Day’s in order to focus on bigger strategic issues and make meetings more purposeful with positive outcomes.
Of course, some negativity was received from certain parties but when they appeared to be in the minority, they changed their tune. When introducing changes or suggesting improvements you can quickly become seen as a threat to certain individuals.
In order to overcome this, you need to develop good relationships with these individuals but still maintain a clear leadership role and always maintain good communication.
Understand the reasons why people become governors as this will help you to appreciate what motivates them. The impact of this was that other governors became more engaged and more motivated. These governors approached their role with a positive attitude; governors’ awareness and knowledge increased.
When I became Chair of Governors, a little over 15 months ago, I set myself a personal goal to nurture my Governing Body and develop a committed group of governors who were all working towards the same common goal - to provide excellent education for our children.
Having built an effective team, which in itself is a challenge that requires systematic self-evaluation and effective recruitment, you then need to strike a balance between ‘friend’ and ‘critical friend’.
This is particularly difficult when these unpaid volunteers are responsible for the performance management and salary of senior leaders! These individuals have, however, been picked because they possess a wide range of skills and expertise from their professional lives. Use this to your advantage!
Secondly, know and communicate boundaries. This means understanding where professional boundaries lie and ensuring governors respectfully operate within them. The most significant relationship though is between the Headteacher and the Chair of Governors.
This relationship must be based on mutual trust, respect, openness and a shared understanding that governors are responsible for governance. I encourage governors to focus their energy and attention on being strategic and having the maximum impact using the precious time that they give up.
Our school benefits from this because governors know what they need to know about the school, are respected and are therefore determined to be productive and ultimately successful. But it also works both ways!
Lastly, have a vision for your school that everyone is signed up to. From the top all the way down (Governors, Executive Headteacher, Head Teacher, Senior Leaders, SENCO, FLO, Teachers, Teaching Assistants, Caretaker, School Crossing Patrol, you name it!).
It is part of my schools’ daily school routine and everyone knows that whatever they are doing it is for the same common goal. Our vision is linked to our Appraisals and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), it is linked to our School Improvement Plan (SIP) and it is in turn linked to our Governor monitoring plan.
The vision was devised with input from across our school community, but it is ultimately owned by the Governing Body. At our Governing Body meetings and when I’m in school I gauge the impact the vision is having and discuss areas for improvement with Senior Leaders.
Combining these elements together, I believe I have developed a successful relationship with my Exec-Head. We meet regularly and work effectively to ensure skills and expertise are appropriately applied.
We have a common sense of purpose which all governors understand; it gives clarity about their role and the impact they have. Together we strive to ensure that governors are empowered to develop themselves, share responsibility, and accountability. But also, so they are not afraid to challenge, challenge, challenge!
- Make meetings purposeful with positive outcomes.
- Ensure agenda material is sent out well in advance.
- Publish a monitoring plan early in Term 1 so that each governor knows what is expected throughout the year and can plan effectively.
- Agree the purpose and content of Headteacher Reports with Governors.
- Governors are unpaid volunteers who give up their own time to provide independent oversight of the management and operation of a school. Use their time wisely and give them as much notice as possible.
Richard Hover Chair of Governors Chartham Primary School.