pocket expenses (although very few claim even this modest amount).
However, indifferent governance takes value away and poor governance can sap the energy of a school to a point that can lead to closure in extreme circumstances.
So what constitutes good Governance? There’s not enough space in a short post of this nature to go into much detail. The Independent Schools’ Portal Consultancy Service can provide bespoke governor training and assist with self-evaluation. The two key ingredients however are appointing the head (which hopefully is a rare event) and managing the crucial relationship between the school’s leadership and the governing body. The latter task almost always falls to the Chair of the Board. Insofar as headship appointments go, it’s such an important process, that unless the Board has membership with first rate recruitment and selection expertise, it is essential to enlist the help of professionals. These vary in quality and price and often there’s not much correlation! Mind you, if you manage the relationship properly, you won’t need to be recruiting that often.
What governors must never do is to make judgements other than those agreed as the school’s indicators. For instance, if a governor visits a lesson to get a feel for what goes on at the school, he or she must not, under any circumstances, make a judgement about the quality of teaching or learning. They must, on the other hand, ensure that they understand how the management assesses staff performance and satisfy themselves that this is being carried out consistently. A similar pitfall is encountered with complaints. Parents feel, quite rightly in the case of poor governance, that if they complain directly to the board they can leap frog the proper process and that things will work out the way they want, regardless of the validity of the issue. Instead of getting involved, governors must insist that the complaints procedure is followed. Of course, they’re quite entitled to ask the management whether and how the complaint has been handled, but they must not have any input into the outcome of the complaint unless and until it reaches the appeal stage. Just as in a legal case, any prior involvement will be interpreted as bias and hence renders the governors’ decisions unsafe.
Another area to look out for is micro management. The Head and leadership team, not governors, or parents are charged with the responsibility of running the school. As long as the school reaches or exceeds the expectations of the Board, the individual style of leadership of the Head must remain exactly that: individual.
The critical friend aspect can only be described as crucial. Headship is a lonely role. Heads can turn to their professional associations for support and advice, but day to day chatting through an idea or problem with a colleague isn’t open to them; after all, the local heads are all in competition with each other! So he or she must turn to the Chair to lend a willing (again non-judgmental) ear. But this does not mean that this willing ear isn’t afraid to be critical when things go wrong. Even in a casual conversation, the chair must continue to hold the Head and the leadership team to account. This relationship takes time to build, relying as it does on both trust and respect.
So it’s a delicate tightrope that governors have to tread. Indifferent or poor governance is not just down to the governors themselves; the head is the lead professional and should be able to guide governors along this complex path. Working with Governors is a vital part of the Head’s job. He or she deserves proper training in this aspect, particularly if new to headship. Help is at hand, either in the form of training or one to one mentoring. Indeed, there’s a lot to be said for the Chair of Governors and a newly appointed Head sharing an induction programme. If the Leadership Team and the Governing Body get this vital relationship right, the other aspects of governance are almost inevitably going to be good. Consequently this band of valuable supporters will add significantly to the excellence of the school they seek to serve.
Thomas Packer has served as Governor, Clerk to the Governors and Head in five different independent schools and is thus uniquely placed to appreciate all perspectives. His services include bespoke training for both Heads and Governors, Heads’ induction, mentoring and appraisal as well as assisting governors evaluate their own effectiveness. His contact details can be found at HERE.