Knowing what makes a good Chair of Governors matters; with thanks to Mary Myatt

The other day I read a wonderful post by @Mary Myatt which she wrote to celebrate the 200th post by @TeacherToolkit. In this post she discusses the seven things top leaders do. This post was written with school leaders like heads in mind. As I was reading it, I could see that many of these characteristics need to be present in a person if he/she was to be an effective Chair of Governors. I, therefore, decided to see if I could use Mary’s post as a blueprint to think about the qualities of a top Chair.

1. Mary says that top leaders seek people out, mostly to show appreciation but sometimes to hold them to account. As far as the holding to account is concerned, the Governors’ Handbook states that one of the core functions of the board of directors is “to hold the headteacher to account””. It, therefore, follows that the Chair needs to be able to do this effectively himself and help and lead the board to do so as well.

2. A top Chair should be able to offer support and encouragement to governors. This is especially important when people join the GB. Newly appointed governors will, hopefully, bring skills to the GB but they may not know how to translate those skills to governance so that they become effective governors. Governors who become chairs of committee for the first time or take up the post of VC will also need support which a top Chair will be able and willing to provide.

3. Mary says top leaders acknowledge and appreciate people and remember to say thank you. This is important for Chairs to do as well. It is little things like this which help get the best out of the team. Governors are volunteers and gladly give up their time. A little appreciation will go a long way! A good Chair will also remember to thank the Head and SLT and other members of the school staff and let them know that their hard work is appreciated.

Image courtesy of Naypong /

4. Mary says top leaders, “know the difference between a reason and an excuse” and work to the principle of “high challenge and low threat”. This also holds true for top chairs. The holding the head to account can only happen effectively if the Chair and the GB understand when they are being presented with excuses and when with reasons. The former is not acceptable. Reasons can be accepted but this does not mean that they should be accepted without challenge. If, for example, the progress of students is less than expected, there may be reasons for it. The job of the Chair and the GB is to examine the reasons and then come up with strategies to deal with the issues and this should be done by “high challenge and low threat”. A top Chair knows the difference between challenge and confrontation.

5. Mary expects top leaders to know every aspect of their school. This is true of the Chair and the board too. Ofsted expects governors to know how the school is doing. They should be very familiar with the data dashboard, the Fischer family Trust dashboard, RAISEonline and the internal evaluations carried out by the school. They are expected not to just rely on the head/school but to question data themselves and use the above tools to inform their own opinions. The Chair should be able to lead this process.

6. A top Chair develops a close but at all times a very professional relationship with the head. He/she will be used as a sounding board by the head. A top Chair will respect confidentiality and would be aware of the duty of care towards the head.

7. Top Chairs take their team with them. They are very aware of the fact that in order to get the best out of the board, all governors need to feel valued and need to be part of the decision making process. Top Chairs are very good at delegation. Top Chairs also know how best to utilise the skills of the people on the governing body. A top Chair makes sure that the board works harmoniously together as a corporate board with contributions from every member.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

8. A top Chair will be able and willing to evaluate his/her own performance and the performance of the board. This can be done by performing 3600 reviews. I feel quite strongly that if we are to hold the school to account, we must submit ourselves to scrutiny too. Done well, these self evaluation reviews have the potential to improve performance.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

9. Top Chairs are able to develop a close working relationship with their clerks. They recognise that for the board to function well, it needs a good clerk. They will do all they can do to make the job of the clerk easy, for example, by encouraging everyone to submit papers to and respond to the clerk in a timely manner.

10. Finally, top Chairs recognise that although governors are volunteers, no one said that they shouldn’t enjoy serving on the board! Chairs have a duty of care towards the head but they must remember that they have a duty of care to the members of the board as well as themselves!

And there you have it; my list of qualities which I think makes a Chair a top Chair. You probably can add more to the list. Please do.

With thanks to Mary Myatt.


4 thoughts on “Knowing what makes a good Chair of Governors matters; with thanks to Mary Myatt

  1. Ian

    Very interesting, I’ve offered thought about whether my skills as a company secretary might be of use to schools and clearly they would. In my blog I talk about some of the problems I face.See


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