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The New Chair: a year is a long time in governance

Image credit: vacated by Nick Chapman - licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

The New Chair: a year is a long time in governance

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This is the fourth in a series of blog posts by a newly-elected (in September 2015) chair of governors in a primary school documenting the experiences s/he has starting out in the role. For obvious reasons it’s anonymous – if you have helpful questions or answers to the questions the author poses below, then please leave them as a comment on this post – subject to the new chair’s availability s/he might answer as s/he is able.

One year in

Made it! What a year! It has been a rollercoaster of an experience – and I have to say I’ve loved it.

The start of the year as the new Chair was very hard, as you’ll have seen from my very first post here. Everything was new and a lot of the things needed to be updated and changed and with Ofsted on the way they needed changing quickly.

I started the year reading as much as possible on what constituted good practice used that information to create the action plan which was relatively easy to prioritise (statutory areas first for example!). I’ve found that I have had lots of advice, and although all of it is welcome some of it has been conflicting. Therefore coming towards the end of the year I’m finding that I’m developing my own thoughts and styles, each meeting gets a little easier than the last. There are certainly areas that I still need advice on, but with time comes confidence and that helps to sift the advice more easily!

Switching chairs?

Talking about advice, if you’re looking to change your chair next year, here are my top five tips:

  1. Arrange for the incoming Chair to have as much notice as practically possible. If you can arrange the succession plan so that the new Chair has at least a year of shadowing the existing Chair then that would be ideal, even a summer holiday of notice would be good, but leaving it until the first meeting of the Autumn term means that you are not well led for the first meeting of the year, which often sets the tone for the rest of the year.
  2. Following on from number one, look at succession planning as soon as the new Chair is in post. Train up the Vice-Chair through courses and shadowing and if you can afford to, send governors on leadership courses. I’ve been on one this year and it has been invaluable to have a ‘safe space’ where you can say anything without fear of judgement.
  3. You can’t know too much. Go to as many Chair meetings and training sessions as possible. Try and find a mentor that can call or have a pint with and talk through areas you’re not sure about. Sign up to some governor advice groups: the NGA is great, as is the Key and Modern Governor. That said, ensure you’re taking advice from reputable places, I’ve joined some Facebook groups for governors that haven’t always given the best advice possible, so as with all things online, don’t always assume they’re right!
  4. One thing you very quickly find is that you don’t know quite how much work the chair does until you do it, so if you can make the life of your eventual successor easier by ensuring that the work of the governing body is spread as far and wide as possible you’ll have had a major victory! There are other benefits such as strengthening the skills of each member of the board and helping to keep all governors engaged are just two of them.
  5. Relationships with the Headteacher have to be good. Take time to work closely with them in the initial stages and come up with a routine of meetings or catch-ups that work for you. We’ve found the relatively relaxed ad-hoc meetings are right for us, however talking to other governors this is not the case for them and they prefer a regular Friday morning meeting.

The good and the less good

If I was to pick out a positive and negative of the year I’d say that the discussions about academisation and school structure have been the least rewarding part. I’m delighted we stopped talking about it mid-year and even though the political landscape changed part way through the year we haven’t been tempted to raise it at a committee meeting since. This has led us to focus almost all of our time and attention on the teaching and learning which coincidentally leads me to the positive!  Seeing the impact of conversations, decisions and debates that we’ve had at meetings, with the head and the staff have a positive impact on the teaching, learning and pupils in our school is wonderfully rewarding and something that I’m incredibly proud of.

The future? The way the last month has been, who knows. As soon as I have finished typing this we’ll have had a new Education Secretary, and goodness knows how many other changes. But although you have to be aware of your statutory duties and the political landscape in the work we do, I think the thing that I’ll remember more than anything else: don’t get distracted by the noise – your school is the most important thing and deserves nothing less than your complete attention and vision.

Image credit: vacated by Nick Chapman – licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.


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  • Naureen
    Posted at 22:48h, 19 July Reply

    Will you stand again in September?

    • The New Chair
      Posted at 01:55h, 21 July Reply

      Hi Naureen, thank you for the comment. Yes, absolutely. I’ve really enjoyed being Chair and feel one year isn’t enough!

  • Bruce
    Posted at 11:08h, 21 July Reply

    I’ve just read all four of your posts. Firstly, Well done for stepping up and recognising inherent problems in your governing body. I did the same about five years ago, and it wasn’t easy – we lost four governors in a very short period. We changed the head, changed the way we worked, and became a partnership. Then we lost that head, and became a federation with the other school. This year was my first chairing a federation and it has been quite a task.

    We had Ofsted in one of our schools last week – on the last day they could have realistically come this year. It was a very positive experience all round. Do be prepared, but don’t over prepare. Our inspector had the measure of the school within a couple of hours, so you cant hide behind false smiles! She was very thorough, but also very approachable. Know your stuff, or take a short set of notes with you – especially useful for sports premium or pupil premium.

    Personally, I think it is a mistake to take academisation off your agenda. Although the policy seemed to change, it hasn’t really; they are just giving it longer to happen. Consider whether you have the capacity to work with another school – if you have good enough practice in your school to do so, or conversely, whether you would benefit from help from another. Are there other local schools with whom you could form an alliance? A federation or even partnership might be one step towards an academy. Keep a close eye on policy developments – we keep it as a fixed agenda item, as we don’t want to be caught on the back foot.

    Keep a close eye on your head. If they are good, they might get itchy feet in a village school, and be looking for something a bit more demanding within a few years. That could, as it did with us, force you to look at other options, such as sharing a head, or federating. Its important to have that in the back of your mind, just in case.

    If your data is not so hot, make sure that the head is implementing strategies to improve it; particularly around pupil premium and SEND. Use your committees to find out whether that is working. A really good practitioner can turn bad data around in a year – I have seen it done.

    I hope you don’t mind my long reply – it is often very difficult to see through the maze. Its taken me a long time to get it right!

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