By Naureen Khalid
For many teachers, school governors are shrouded in mystery and are only seen or mentioned when applying or interviewing for jobs in schools. But governors are central to the effective running of schools and they do so much behind the scenes of the school classrooms and corridors. Naureen Khalid gives an overview of just what governance is and why you just might want to get involved yourself.
Schools are governed by boards of trustees or governing boards, depending upon the structure of the organisation. More and more schools are working together in multi-academy trusts (MATs). These organisations can be involved in the education of thousands of pupils and command multi-million pound budgets. Their governing bodies are called trust boards, made up of trustees, and they have a strategic role across all schools in the MAT.
For schools that are part of a MAT, the functions and responsibilities of their local governing boards may be slightly different, but they still will have a strategic rather than an operational role.
If teachers understand governance and what their governors are trying to achieve, then everyone can move forward in the same direction to bring about school improvement. This would also lessen the chances of a “us and them” feeling or culture developing which, if it does, can be very toxic.
An understanding of the role of governors might also motivate teachers to join boards. There are huge benefits to this – for both ‘sides’.
Firstly, governance can be very useful CPD as teachers can gain valuable experience of both strategic thinking and planning. By joining the board of a different school, teachers can gain understanding of how others find different solutions to the same problems. Indeed, serving on the board of a different school and thus being exposed to different practises helps teachers reflect on their own local practice.
Working as a governor enables teachers to gain experience of scrutinising budgets, financial planning, HR, data analysis, staff recruitment etc; quite possibly, for the first time. This experience will be especially useful if they want to progress to senior leader or headship positions in the future. Joining a board is also a very good way of building networks beyond one’s own school or trust.
Another great advantage of serving on the board of a different school is that teachers may get a chance to be involved in appointing a senior leader or even a headteacher. Again, this experience will be invaluable if teachers decide to go for these leadership positions themselves one day.
As a member of a governing board, teachers will obviously learn about governance and this knowledge will help them work better with their own board. On the other hand, teachers bring specialist knowledge and skills, such as assessment, curriculum development, safeguarding, SEND, etc, which is invaluable to the board.
Perhaps, most importantly, involvement and commitment to a local school could make a massive difference to the future of young people and your community.
However, before deciding to join a board, teachers may want to find out about what’s involved. There are about 250,000 governors in England. Legally, people can’t be paid to be governors. This makes governors one of the largest volunteer forces in the country. The purpose of governance is to provide confident, strategic leadership. Board members are non-executive leaders of the organisation. Irrespective of the type of organisation they lead, they have three core functions.
Our first core role is to ensure there is clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction. Governors help define the mission (why are we starting out on the journey), vision (where do we want to be in the future; the destination) and the strategy (how we will reach the destination). Governors work in partnership with schools leaders to define the vision and strategy.
Our second core function is to hold the executive leaders of the school to account for the performance of the pupils, performance of the school and the performance management of staff.
State schools are funded by public money. Governors are custodians of this public money. As such, our third core function is to ‘monitor’ the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.
As strategic leaders, board members bring about school improvement indirectly. Through monitoring and in-depth questioning of data, we help drive school improvement. Finally, we provide support to the executive leaders, the heads.
One of the most important roles governors might perform is appointing a head. In order to carry out this function, they need to have a clear idea about the vision for the school so the appropriate person, one who can deliver the vision, can be appointed.
It is important to remember that a school governor is a governor for all children and it is our responsibility to ensure that each child is given a chance to burn bright and shine.
Because our work involves these important roles, governance must be effective if we are to provide the best possible education to every child. For governance to be effective, the Governance handbook says we need leadership which is strategic and which understands accountability. We need people with the correct skills and the right structures in place and the board needs to understand compliance and evaluation.
The National Governance Association lists eight elements of effective governance which are:
- Ensuring that the right people are around the table
- Understanding roles & responsibilities
- Good chairing
- Professional clerking
- Good relationships based on trust
- Knowing the school
- Commitment to asking challenging questions
- Confidence to have courageous conversations
The current educational system is one of high stakes accountability. The board leadership also faces accountability pressures itself from central government, from local authorities, from communities etc. Effective boards ensure that they hold the executive leadership to account in a way which doesn’t lead to fear in the organisation but instead is a way of determining what isn’t working and putting it right. The work of governors is one of supporting and challenging school leaders. Governance is most effective when there is balance between the challenge and support we offer the school leaders.
The best gift we can give our children is a good education. School staff and governors working together can ensure that all our children and young people are afforded this opportunity and realise their potential.