School governors

A great day yesterday at the School Governors Conference organised by our Children’s Services Network at the LGiU.  The theme was 21st Century governance.   We talked alot about how schools are changing with the focus on the whole child in the community, the notion of ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child, and the many policy initiatives that are driving this from ‘every child matters’ to ‘extended schools’.  We were also thinking ahead to the new proposals for schools that the government will announce next week, where the central proposal is a move away from competition between schools to a new emphasis on collaboration.  There are already many ‘federated’ schools around the country showing the way.  I had an interesting chat with an ‘Executive Head’ who oversees four federated schools in Devon.   The question for the conference was how can and should school governance evolve with all these changes.   I gave a starter for 10… 10 ideas for change, which you can read more on…

We see several ways to improve the effectiveness of governing bodies, ten quick ideas to consider:

1.

The role of the clerk is vital for good governance. We will hear from our next speakers that the status of clerks should be raised. Governing bodies choose their own clerk which is correct but there should be a necessary distance between the clerk, school governing body and the rest of the school staff.

Where the Clerk is an employee of the school, such as the School Secretary, this is not consistent with the need to provide independent advice to the Governors to enable them to effectively carry out their role in challenging and holding to account the Headteacher.

Parish councils provide a good model of very local, part time clerks, who are trained and connected through national and local networks. The LGiU would prefer to see this model in schools.

In some areas the local authority offers a governors service and this may be working well. Some school governing bodies will prefer not to use this service but to make their own arrangements.

In any event, we need a clearer agreement around the role of the clerk, including an emphasis on their responsibility being to the Governing Body, along with the training and networks to support this. I think it would be better to achieve this voluntarily, but it may be an area where the Government should legislate.

2.
Allocation of different roles to different groups on the governing body to ensure the scrutiny role is carried out effectively – having a core group of 2/3 governors who can meet with the headteacher and other senior staff to challenge them whether the actions and policies of the school are delivering the best outcomes possible.

Trying to challenge a headteacher at a full governor meeting in front of other school staff is inappropriate. The governing body would also continue to meet as a bigger group and would receive reports from the scrutiny group and undertake the more general strategic and support role.

3.
Many others have asked for more quality training for governors, especially those newly appointed. We would also want governing meetings to be run so that governors feel empowered to contribute. This will mean changing the agenda so that discussion is about what sort of school they want and how pupils should be consulted etc rather than about more technical aspects of the curriculum.

4.
Filling vacancies so that the governing body is up to its full complement and requiring the school, clerk and LA to make sure action is taken (Stuart Ranson has talked about the benefits of schools growing their own governors).

The governing body can encourage schools to do this and can themselves take a active role by holding meetings with parents and others from the community to explain the value of the governing body’s work. They can also actively look in the community for new recruits to recommend to governing body for appointment as community governors.

5.
Local authorities to develop new models of governance in local areas (eg governance of different types of federations of schools or the governance needed for a larger locality) and to assess the effectiveness of these and what models are works best in different circumstances.

6.
Local authorities to develop ways for the community to become involved in school governance for a locality or LA area. Existing LA forums on schools give too little representation to governors as Stuart Ranson has outlined. This needs to change.

7.
LAs should set up discussions and reviews of what constitutes good governance and on new developments e.g governance in federations of schools.

8.
DCSF should fund a group of 5/6 LAs to meet to discuss new developments and make recommendations to the the DCSF.

9.
The DCSF should draw up clear and succinct draft guidance on the role of governors and consult on this and update and rationalise the law on school governance accordingly.

10.
The link with local elected Councillors is important, particularly as schools have an ever wider community role, and the LGiU will develop proposals around this