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Five ways to make your governing board’s voice more widely heard

Woofers, Tweeters & Squawkers

Five ways to make your governing board’s voice more widely heard

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It is (for most schools), just about the end of the academic year. For some in school (pupils, most teachers, support staff) the yawning chasm of the summer break looms, with the first week or two to recover from the year, the week or so to actually rest, and then the final period to wind oneself up for the autumn term. Do governors get a summer break? Do our responsibilities switch over into suspended animation during that period. Probably not. What’s certain is that this is an intense period of a few days which is commonly held by the DfE to be a good time to exhume educational news:

If you as a school or governing board communicate with your school community regularly, then Warwick Mansell’s piece for the NAHT might be useful to share with it to give an idea of some of the seismic and creeping changes on the way, many of which haven’t made and won’t make the press, popular or unpopular, but will affect the pupils, staff, parents and governors of your school. It might also be instructive to have a look at the recent experience of Cramlington Learning Village, which in the view of Ofsted has had a significant journey from Outstanding in 2013 (and being cited in a good practice example by Ofsted in 2012) to being rated Inadequate in a recent inspection. Needless to say, the headteacher and chair of governors of CLV needed to communicate about this, and they did:

Whatever the reality of the judgement on Cramlington, or any other school, with this seemingly-incessant wave of challenges and changes in education breaking over local authorities and maintained schools, as well as trusts, chains and the academies in them, there is a wealth of important issues on which the voice of governors should be heard. Your governing board’s voice may well be being heard within the community – among parents and carers, the staff, pupils, visitors, but do you know if it’s heard beyond that community? With the likelihood of more pressure on school leadership, coupled with a drive towards academisation which has the head of one chain say

then one part of taking an active role in shaping your school’s future is making your governing board’s voice heard. We’ve put together some ways in which governing boards can engage with the wider communities around policy and practice. They’re by no means exhaustive – but we’d be interested to hear how your governing board has spoken beyond its community, either in the comments or via Twitter.

In no particular order, they are:

1. Get involved with your local governor association

Often run across a local authority and inclusive of any academies, maintained and free school governing boards who want to get involved, local governor associations have structure, organisation and provide an often informal forum to find expertise, provide informal support and often hold local authority officers to account – not just those within any LA governor service, but directors of children’s services and other branches of local government. According to the NGA, 50% of areas in England have local associations – you can find out if yours is listed by browsing the list on the NGA site.

2. Even if you don’t subscribe to their SLA, engage with your local authority’s governor support service as much as you can

As well as being the probable source of any LA governors, your local support service will have a wealth of current knowledge about how changes in government policy affect the local picture of governance. Just as importantly will be their knowledge of what’s gone before in your school, schools down the road and the wider picture of good governance in your area – which used wisely will allow your governing body to operate effectively in the much talked-up school-led system. If you’re a new chair and want to make your voice heard, then those in your local support service should be

3. Use an online service like Twitter or Facebook to engage with those in and beyond your school community

You may publish a printed or electronic newsletter or dispatch from your governing board on a (semi-) regular basis. If your governing board is comfortable with doing this – or even if it’s not – then the increasing penetration of social media into the routines of parents and carers offers another way of communicating with them.

There are plenty of examples of governing boards doing this, and some of them do it well. See Hythe Primary School Governors as an example (also on Twitter, but tweets are simply links to the posts on Facebook):

The Facebook page of Hythe Primary School's governing body

The Facebook page of Hythe Primary School’s governors

Questions to ask when viewing such an account – which effectively represent the entire governing body or trust board – include:

  • was every word and nuance in each post agreed upon by the entire governing board?
  • who is publishing the posts – is it clear from the time of day that they’re done from home, from work, or from anywhere?
  • are any of the posts clearly labelled as being from a particular member of the governing board (e.g. the chair)?
  • are they helpful? Do you know more about how the governing board operates and what it does from reading them?
  • what picture do you get of the school in question from reading them?

Above all, is the use of such a tool helping the governing board communicate about its strategic role – obviously not just beyond its community, but within it as well.

4. Where they feel confident to, encourage governors to get involved in social networks themselves

If individual governors are already active on social networks, then encourage them to get involved with groups on those networks clustered around school governance. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are three of the main social networks which many of your governors will be on, and each offers opportunities to engage with fellow governors and trustees. If you’re a Modern Governor subscriber, then our School Governors and Social Media module provides practical and thoughtful tips and examples on how to do this as an individual governor. We’ll publish a more detailed post over the weekend with some practical ways to do this.

5. Consider joining the NGA

The Secretary of State for Education at the 2015 NGA Summer Conference

The Secretary of State for Education at the 2015 NGA Summer Conference

If and when the Secretary of State for education engages with governors, that’s a sign that if you want to make him or her hear what you’ve got to say then you should be there to make your voice heard. You can join the NGA on a number of different levels but one of the intangible benefits is of contributing to a national community of governors and trustees, which accompanies the other benefits available to members.

How does your governing board engage with the education and national communities of thought and practice beyond those who might read your school’s newsletter? Let us know in a comment of via a tweet to @ModernGovernor.

Image: Woofers, Tweeters & Squawkers by Grant Hutchinson – licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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