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TES Article: Effectiveness of Governing Bodies

TES Article: Effectiveness of Governing Bodies

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TESThere was a somewhat provocative editorial piece about governance published in the TES last week which stated “We’ve spent too much time making governance local and not enough making it effective”.

I was surprised by the opening paragraph:

“Vindictive, interfering, amateurish, crass, ignorant busybodies. Other people call them school governors, but a significant minority of headteachers would be less polite. In a recent survey, while a fifth of heads said their governors were outstanding, an equal amount said they were poor.”

The article goes on to question the current structure of governing bodies, and states “The traditional mantra is that governors are there to support and challenge school heads. But support and challenge when and how? Its vagueness allows determined heads to bamboozle supine governors and deluded governors to pretend that they run the school and not the professionals in the classroom.”

It concludes that “If governing bodies are to be more effective, their composition has to change. It would make sense to professionalise the role of chair and pay them. It would be better to recruit more retired teachers and those with relevant professional experience, and appoint fewer local authority stooges. A governing body can reflect the community and function well. But far too much attention has been paid to making governors representative and not nearly enough to making them effective.”

I think there’s an awful lot of action being taken to improve the effectiveness of school governance.  Granted, there are challenges in giving an entirely voluntary workforce the skills and knowledge they need to be effective school governors.  But the appetite is there – from all stakeholders.

Modern Governor is playing a big part in offering governors a flexible way to access governance training.  The NGA works tirelessly to improve governor effectiveness, offering impartial advice and guidance.  SGOSS works to place people with appropriate transferable skills into governor vacancies.  Local authorities like City of York and Manchester City Council are implementing innovative ways to support their governors. Organisations like The Key are offering support (more about this in a later blog).  At a local level, governor associations like NorfolkStaffordshire and Gloucestershire are becoming more high-profile.  Bloggers like Sean Whetstone and “Clerkie” are providing invaluable links and a friendly online “face” of governance and clerking. This isn’t a definitive list – I’m sure you know of more examples (and if you let me know, I’ll add them to this article).

I’m really interested in what you thought of the original TES article.  Do you agree that not enough has been done to make school governance effective?

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  • Neil Collins
    Posted at 21:12h, 13 June Reply

    What a dumb article from the TES – very ignorant about the role of governors.

    I’m all in favour of better and better trained governors but the premise of the TES article seems to be that only teachers have a valid opinion on education and so are the only group who produce decent governors.

    An ideal governor is one who can understand data and arguments quickly, spot the key issues and filter out the extraneous. They can then spot the key question to ask. They will also have accounting, management and project planning experience. In my experience, many of the decent governors I’ve met tick those boxes and are a long way from the picture painted by the TES.

  • Helen Willis
    Posted at 11:58h, 14 June Reply

    A little extreme and quite insulting given we all volunteer but I think it makes some valid points too. The system needs overhauling it’s antiquated and I don’t believe the current system provides schools with what they need:- People who know the school from the inside but are from the outside.

  • Steve Acklam
    Posted at 12:07h, 14 June Reply

    The School Governor’s One-Stop Shop was launched in 1999 to recruit volunteer governors with transferable skills, and to help address the increasing imbalance between governor body responsibilities and their capacity to effectively manage them. Earlier this year we secured a placement for our 12,000 governor, of whom half are female, 65% are under 45 and 20% + are from an ethnic background. Of the some 3,500 volunteers we have recruited from our biggest supporting employers, 43% have financial skills, 17% are from an education background and a further 17% are from a combintion of communication and Law.

    In research conducted last year among heads and chairs in schools where we have placed volunteers the following are among the key conclusions:

    – For Head Teachers and Chairs the recruitment of skills-based governors was seen as an important and necessary means by which to enhance the effectiveness of the governing body.
    – SGOSS governors were perceived by Head Teachers and Chairs as particularly valuable in fulfilling Challenging, Monitoring and Evaluating roles. Head Teachers particularly valued their role as “critical friends” giving their support a rating of 4.65 against a maximum of 5.
    – Head Teachers and Chairs concurred that SGOSS Governors demonstrated an ability to assimilate information quickly, ask the relevant questions, approach issues from a strategic stand point and stay objective.

    There are many schools that remain unaware of the free service we offer, and we know that not every school will choose to work with us. Nevertheless, I would suggest that in our relatively small way we are already addressing the issues that the editorial raises.

    Steve Acklam, Chief Executive, School Governors’ One- Stop Shop

  • Sally Hatherington
    Posted at 18:40h, 14 June Reply

    The current system of governance definitely needs review. Consider the problems related to rural school governance where chances are governors all know one another, are friends, run businesses within the community, worship together, are great friends with the Headteacher and so on. This can have catastrophic consequences where the school goes into freefall, regard for the children at the school becomes secondary and a battle ensues between parents, governors and the local authority – follow the ongoing story of how when school governance goes wrong it goes so so very wrong at published today and relevant back pages and archive on that site.

    A quote from the Chair made in April from that website. He says: “We felt we had a team together to support the head teacher and who she thought she could work with and was happy to do so”. Does this represent the mantra of ‘critical friend’?

    Relevant info: – December 2009 – around 190 pupils, today less than 140, at least 14 governors have resigned since then, ongoing removal of children to other local schools.

  • Mark Lardner
    Posted at 16:52h, 15 June Reply

    Please don’t forget GovernorLine – the free, independent source of information, support and advice for governors and governing bodies.

  • Elaine Walton
    Posted at 14:59h, 24 June Reply

    @all Published today in the TES, a letter from Lord Bichard in reponse to this article.

    In it, Lord Bichard says:

    Letters | Published in The TES on 24 June, 2011 | By: Lord Bichard

    In answer to the question of professionalisation of governors, I would like to see a system that continues to rely on the services of volunteers.

    Never have we asked for so much, while offering so little, to school governors. We expect governors to balance, challenge and support; we ask that they comply, scrutinise – even “academise”. All this at a time when local authorities are cutting governor services.

    Over the past months I have been involved in testing a new model of governor support in the North West. Manchester City Council has brokered a support package including local and National Governor Association memberships, online training from Modern Governor, and a question-answering service from Ten Governor Support.

    Manchester has blended the best of public and private to find a long-term, scalable solution to this issue. I will be writing to every local authority to set out Manchester’s model and underline the importance of high-quality support for governors, which I believe will have a far greater impact on “effectiveness” than professionalisation.”

    Here’s the online link:

  • James Weston
    Posted at 09:18h, 26 June Reply

    Lord Bichard’s letter doesn’t really address how his model addresses the issue.

    I wonder too about the costs. For example, I hear good things of Ten, although I haven’t used it myself, but it is a subscription service. GovernorLine is excellent and free – how much extra would my GB have to pay.

    Personally, I think compulsory training would reduce the governor pool but I’m not convinced that would be a bad thing. I think headteachers should be made to attend as well.

  • Mary White
    Posted at 23:21h, 08 June Reply

    I agree with Neil Collins. Critical thinking and analysis skills are definitely required as a given to understand school data. A sincere desire to support the children and staff is vital and this should be demonstrated by regular visits and informal chats with all parties. Caution should be taken regarding ‘monitoring’. Too many governors assume they have some sort of ‘power’ and influence over what happens in schools and in particular with regard to parent governors, the opportunity to try to change how their own child is taught is too tempting. Helen Willis says that governors are people who ‘know the school from the inside but are from the outside.’ I disagree. Governors will never know a school from the inside and it is for this reason I consider they should not be given the task of appointing Headteachers. They may know the community well and think they know what the school needs but too often governors do not understand the workings of a school; the complexities and requirements of the curriculum and the roles of all the staff. It is impossible to know what goes on, on a day to day basis and to understand how the machine really works. Amateurs who receive two or three 2-hour sessions in how to interview for a headteacher are ill-equipped to effectively carry out this huge responsibility. They are guided towards the types of questions to ask via their training or websites but have little or no idea what sort of responses to expect or what is a good answer. How can they? They have a limited knowledge of the context. Local authority representatives act as a safety net and advisors and if the governing body are poorly informed the LA rep can be very persuasive. Chairs and Deputies should be chosen with care. There is a tendency for Chairs to enjoy the kudos of the position and the responsibility of, for example, monitoring the performance targets of the headteacher. Chairs should be able to lead the governing body meetings effectively, demonstrate good critical thinking skills, be personable humble and sincere in their support for the school. The rest of the governing body will respect a Chair who shows integrity and this will filter through to everyone. Staff are able to spot attention seekers and false friends (as opposed to critical friends) immediately and will lose faith in any governor who just wants a tick in that box on their CV to impress an employer!

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