A colleague once asked me why anyone would consider becoming a school governor. It is unpaid voluntary work, dealing with complex situations, with lots of evening meetings, increasing expectations, and for what?
What do School Governors actually do?
The core functions of school governors are:
(As stated in the DfE’s Governance Handbook)
- Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
- Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils, and the performance management of staff
- Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent.
To achieve this governing bodies or boards need:
- The right people with the necessary skills, time and commitment, and a sufficient diversity of perspectives to ensure internal challenge, all actively contributing in line with clearly defined roles and responsibilities under an effective chair and an explicit code of conduct, and with active succession planning
- Clear governance structures with tightly defined remits, particularly in relation to functions delegated to committees or other bodies
- Clear separation between the strategic and operational in terms of the role of the board and its school leaders
- A positive relationship between the board and its school leaders enabling robust constructive challenge on the basis of a good understanding of objective data particularly on pupil progress, staff performance and finances
- The support and advice of an independent and professional clerk and, in the case of academies, company secretary
- Robust processes for financial and business planning and oversight, and effective controls for compliance, propriety and value for money
- Processes for regular self-evaluation, review and improvement including: skills audits; training and development plans; and independent external reviews as necessary.
A well-informed approach to school governance
The role is strategic and not operational, but governors still need a clear understanding and overview of the schools they govern. To do this they need information presented in a logical and intelligible format. For example the headteacher’s report can range in some cases from a few bullet points to pages and pages of detailed information. Governors need to have an input into what they want in the report and how the information should be presented, so all governors can understand the content and challenge accordingly.
When starting as a new governor at a school a friend was advised “Not to ask any questions for the first few meetings and just sit there and take it all in”. My advice would be the opposite – ask questions, gain a good level of understanding and request as much information as you need.
It is important that new governors have an induction into the school they are governing – the size, make up of pupils, budgets and plans, most recent Ofsted and Quality Assurance reports the school’s self-evaluation and improvement plan.
What is the role of a school governor?
Governors also need to understand their role. There has long been a call for mandatory training for governors – particularly in response to the legitimate expectation of skilled and effective governors. Within the white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere the DfE have a stated aim of creating a competency framework for governors and re-iterated the need for governors to be inducted and well trained.
Governors need to ensure that there are opportunities for training and a budget to pay for it – you cannot be the strategic leaders of a school without the tools to carry out the role.
So why be a governor?
In the words of Lord Nash, “Governing boards are the strategic decision makers and vision setters in every school and academy”.
People become governors because they want to make a lasting positive impact on young people’s lives, which is a good enough reason for me on any cold, dark February evening.