Governors don’t know what they don’t know – but should they?

posted in: Purple Governance | 3

I became a parent governor almost 30 years ago – spotted as a likely candidate (suspect?) by the Headteacher at my daughter’s school. In those days we turned up, had a cup of tea and a sticky bun and agreed with the Headteacher. We held meetings in the staff room and the smoking of pipes was commonplace. Hard to imagine that one today!

So where are we now? A cup of tea and a sticky bun is still welcome of course. Frightfully inhospitable if we are not offered a drink or have the facilities to make one. People travel to meetings and need some refreshment along with a few minutes to chat to colleagues and to gather our thoughts before business commences. Pipes are not smoked anymore! We may well agree with the Headteacher but it is not a given.

We all know, or should know, those three core functions and it is good to remind ourselves of these regularly:

Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction; • Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the performance management of staff; and • Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent.

Yes, I have been a governor for a long time in a variety of schools and, granted, I do not work full time, but I have also invested a lot of time keeping up to date with new legislation, competency frameworks, handbooks, inspections, along with networking, attending local governor forum meetings, local briefings and conferences on a wide range of relevant subjects.  I have seen the rise of the use of relevant social media. However, when I complete External Reviews of Governance I am still meeting governors who are still with the ‘cup of tea, sticky bun and agreeing with the Headteacher’ brigade. In this instance I am sure that Ofsted would say that ‘governors are over reliant on the Headteacher for information’.

Time, I hear you say! Yes, it does take time but not everyone has to do it? As long as someone does it and shares it then we all get to hear it. Read something online? Ask how this works at your school. Don’t know anything about SEND? Ask if the SENCO/Inclusion Manager can come and speak to the board before a governor’s meeting.

I also see some Headteachers who are perhaps not quite as engaging with the role of their governing board as they could be. Is there enough about good and effective governance when teachers are training? Can a poor experience with a poor board colour their judgement with future boards?

Some Headteachers prompt their board with questions they could be asking but should they be doing this?

In my view, from my experience as a National Leader of Governance, there are many boards working in isolation. There are boards where turning up at the meeting is about the only thing they do. They are not exactly ‘opening the envelope containing the papers at the start of the meeting’ but it is not far off. There has been little preparation, few ‘curious questions’ ready prepared and it can be a very passive meeting. Headteachers should expect challenge and support during a meeting. The document produced by the NGA and NAHT, ASCL and the LGA ‘What governing board should expect from school leaders and what school leaders should expect from governing board’ is a great summary of the expectations of the roles and responsibilities.

Yes, I know we are volunteers but we have volunteered with a purpose at that particular school. What is our responsibility as a volunteer at this school? Did someone make sure you were inducted properly? School induction handbook?  Were you given a more experienced governor as a mentor? Were you offered training, either face to face or online? Are you a new Chair? A National Leader of Governance can offer free support to Chairs.

I know that information services can be expensive but Google is a wonderful medium for checking things out. Don’t know your ASP from your GDPR? Look it up!

I return to the heading of this blog. Governors don’t’ know what they don’t know – but should they?

Do you know?




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