Saturday, 30 March 2013

Good Governance- Not Just The Core.

 SMW spoke recently at the ASCL Conference, giving his views on paid governors, accountability and Ofsted's expectations.

One aspect of his speech that concerned me was his interpretation of *good* governance; Governing Bodies with a "core of governors doing most of the work" whilst the periphery presumably watched on scratching their heads and doing little. He asserted that this was a reasonable model to support the argument for paid governance, the inference being that incentivising good governors to form such a core in areas of weak governance would solve the problem of weak governance.

I'm not sure that I agree. Surely the aim should be for all governors to be at least good, if not outstanding. That's what we are striving for, for our schools, so why should it not be the case for governance? Governors both individually and collectively need to accept responsibility for their underperformance, reflect and act decisively to bring about improvement. There need to be appropriate mechanisms whereby weak or disengaged governors within a GB can be identified and supported on a journey of improvement or failing that, removed from the GB. There is no place for tokenism or self- serving motivation in the governance of our schools. We need all governors on a governing body to be actively engaged, with a profound understanding and ownership not only of the school but also of their own role, regardless of the route by which they have arrived on the governing body.

Rather than paying governors I would like to see the development of an accredited Governor Access Course*, completed prior to joining a governing body,  whereby potential candidates could be equipped for the role and educated in the expectations placed upon them in order to fulfil it. This would serve the dual purpose of preparing individuals for immediate engagement with the work of the governing body and affording them an opportunity to reflect on whether the role is one that they are ready and willing to take on. I would also like to see this followed up with an explict expectation  of commitment to continuing development tied to annual self-reflection (in my world mandatory) upon which continuation in role would depend; a Governor Mark type of evaluation for individuals against a set of governor standards.

Perhaps the concept of the small active group demonstrating effective governance is based on the success of IEBs; hit squads brought in to turn around failing schools, replacing existing governing bodies to effect rapid progress. These are successful for short term intervention and their generally small size certainly facilitates decision making and action, but they are not sustainable in the longer term and not anticipated to effect the long term governance of the school. It is extremely challenging and, in my opinion, ultimately impossible to govern a school effectively in the longer term with just a handful of skilled, trained and knowledgeable governors.

The whole school community served by the governing body deserves a fully engaged and informed membership. Anything less should not be tolerated.

*Moderngovernor have a free module on Becoming a School Governor which gives a basic introduction.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Not JUST a volunteer

Many of England's largest band of volunteers have been enraged by the apparently damning comments of SMW but after the knee jerk responses,anger and effrontery isn't it time for governors and GB to reflect on their role and how they could indeed do better.

The first hurdle to overcome is the popular misconception that the term volunteer is synonymous with amateur; an unskilled dabbler. Unfortunately some would consider this exactly describes the average governor and governors themselves identify training deficits as a significant barrier to effective governance. Governors need to reflect  on and appraise their performance on a regular basis, identifying their needs and being pro-active in seeking solutions to enable them to act professionally and be viewed as such.

I know many school governors who are entirely professional in their conduct of governance and this is what we need; more governors being professional, rather than necessarily more "professional" governors. In my experience those venerated (by some) skill rich "professionals" are often so time-starved that they are unable to commit to the softer side of governance, coming into school, really getting to know and developing a deep understanding of their community to inform their duty.

Governors need to challenge themselves individually and corporately, rejecting mediocrity, in pursuit of being the best they can be.  Being passionate, supportive and hard working are highly commendable starting points but governors must accept that once they take up the role they occupy a position of public office and, in the case of Academy governors the potentially uncharted territory of Company Directors and Charitable Trustees with their additional responsibilities. Most governors are familiar with the seven principles of public life and I would recommend The Good Governance Standard for Public Services from 2004 which builds on them, as a source of reference in understanding and developing their role.

I have never been so frustrated as by the excuse from both governors and school leaders that I couldn't expect governors to know x or do y because they are "just volunteers". As long as this attitude perpetuates governance is in danger of stagnation and at risk of failing the schools and children it serves. Only by taking  an informed professional stance can governors achieve the respect of and parity with the school leadership they have a duty to challenge and support.

How can you hold the school leadership to account if you haven't yourself held the mirror to your own face and looked deeply?