Let’s talk about the chair

posted in: Purple Governance | 1

In my last blog, ‘Governors don’t what they don’t know’, I talked about Headteachers who perhaps do not always get governance but provide the ‘sticky bun and the cup of tea’ type of governance. But what about the chair – or any other governors for that matter?

The National Governance Association (NGA) recommends a limit to the time you are the chair at the same school. I am guilty of breaching that two term suggestion by miles but I am not there now! In my defence I did keep up with latest thinking by starting a Facebook group, paying my own conference and CPD fees, tweeting information and generally keeping up to date so I hope I did contribute/challenge from a position of knowledge. The minutes of my meetings, clerked by an external clerk, would hopefully show that I was ‘current’.

In my role as a National Leader of Governance (NLG) I sometimes see examples of several instances where, perhaps, things have gone askew. The chair has been there for years. Governors are worried about upsetting them by removing them. There has been no succession planning. They are too cozy with the Headteacher. The chair has not accessed any development opportunities since the ‘sticky bun’ era when they were first appointed. They have never been in another school. They do not model challenge and support in meetings. They are not outward looking. Meetings go on for hours. They are in school all the time. What Competency Framework? 360 anyone?

I know that time is a factor for many chairs but the access to (appropriate) information via the internet is now exceptional. The DfE and Ofsted tweet. There are number of closed governor groups on Facebook where information can be shared and guidance can be requested from like-minded folk. There are free national programmes for chairs. There is online training available from a variety of sources though with a cost implication.

There are several areas within the Competency Framework that are specific to the chair. Does your chair exhibit those behaviours and competencies? Are we looking at our own collective competencies?

If the chair is in school a lot, what are they doing? Purposeful visits? Reporting back to the board? Do they think that because they are wearing a ‘governor’ badge they are representing the board? Knowing your school by attending assemblies or reading with children – this is not governance.

Meeting with the headteacher does help with developing a professional relationship but it is not about making decisions on behalf of the board. Governors act as a collective and, unless it has been agreed by the board for an action to be taken on behalf of the board, then it is just that – a conversation, perhaps a check on the headteacher’s well-being or acting as a sounding board. Chairs have to have opportunities for confidential conversations with their headteacher and headteacher generally welcome those opportunities.

As a board, do we sit and watch a conversation on agenda items at our meetings between the headteacher and the chair and we say nothing? Do we ask enough curious questions? Have we participated fully? Have we added challenge and support?  At election of the chair agenda item are we really thinking about the needs of the school or worried about upsetting the incumbent?


Do we need to take a good look at our chair?

  1. fee s

    thank you for this blog Jane. You raise some very interesting points. A timely reminder that not all visits are governance and that meetings need to have a clear purpose.

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