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Distributing Governance?

Suspension cables on the GGB

Distributing Governance?

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Andrew WalkerAmong the issues raised at December’s meeting of the APPG on Education Governance & Leadership were those around the capacity of those in full-time employment to be effective members of a governing body, and in particular taking on the role of chair of governors. In this guest post, Andrew Walker outlines some thoughts around the concept of ‘distributed governance’.  Andrew worked in industry and commerce for 25 years before becoming a consultant on organisational communication and development . In more recent years he has worked as a professional Interim Manager before retiring to ignore a small railway in his garden whilst becoming a National Leader of Governance.

Distributed Governance

When I started out as a governor 16 years ago, just turning up for meetings was sufficient.  As a chair of governors for the past 8 years, I have had regular meetings with the head teacher, which have developed into a productive working relationship.  However, over the past 4 years the task of chair of governors has become increasingly onerous and time consuming. As a NLG I have mentored several CoGs and CoG Liaison groups and it is becoming increasingly clear that the governing body can no longer rely solely on the relationship between the head and the chair as the sole determinant of the relationship between the school and the governing body.

Within the recognition that the most effective way of encouraging inspirational learning is to empower a  teacher to be inspirational, the concept of distributed leadership is gaining some adherents. Mirroring these arrangements within governance,  it seems appropriate to consider the concept of distributed governance.

There is a growing recognition in many governing bodies that some government/Ofsted initiatives require special attention, Pupil Premium, SEND, and Safeguarding spring to mind.  Using these topics, and if management is distributed amongst the Senior Leadership team, it seems sensible that each of these nominated governors should seek to develop a head/chair type relationship with the relevant SLT member.

For this to develop effectively a number of conditions need to be fulfilled.

  • The School must have an ethos that recognises and empowers distributed leadership and the head teacher must recognise that this inevitably requires him/her to relinquish control of some activities to other individuals.
  • A correlation is that the authority that is thus devolved to SLT members must have been accepted by those individuals.  Without these two conditions being satisfied, distributed governance cannot work effectively
  • The chair of governors also needs to recognise that they likewise, must give up the ability to know everything about the school and be prepared to trust the nominated governors to work out the relationship with their SLT counterparts and deliver on the governance requirements of their discipline.  In the ideal world, the SLT member and the nominated governor should produce a report for the full governing body on the governance issues related to that function.

This distributed governance also imposes a new discipline on the whole governing body.  It must read all the papers presented to it prior to the meeting and trust their colleagues to have carried out the governance requirements within their delegated function.  Each report is then received by the governing body clarified where required and then challenged against the three functions of governance (setting the vision and strategic direction of school,  holding the school to account for its educational performance; and ensuring financial resources are well spent (PDF, DfE, 2014).

The end result is that the time required for fulfilling the role of chair of governors becomes more attractive to those with less time to commit to the role.

Questions for governing bodies

  • Is it realistic to expect someone in a full-time employment, possibly with other commitments outside of work, to carry out the role of chair of a governing body effectively?
  • What difference does good clerking make to the expectations put upon a chair of governors?
  • Does your governing body already partially operate in ways similar to those proposed by Andrew? If so, how effective is this way of working? What could other governing bodies learn from your experiences?
  • School governance is perhaps unique in that it involves volunteers delivering and implementing government policy on a significant scale. How does the voluntary nature of what we do as governors affect the accountability and expectations required of us by government, staff, parents, pupils and the wider community?

Image: suspension by Casey Blisson – licensed under CC BY-SA-NC 2.0.

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