I was asked to write a blog on school governance by TheSchoolBus. The post is reproduced here with their permission.
The ‘Business’ of School Governance
This week, Naureen Afzal, school governor and co-founder (with her mentor, friend and twin Jo @japenn56) of #UKgovchat talks about the ‘business’ of school governance. Read more about her on her blog.
Governors are accountable for the school, academy or college they govern. The business of the organisation governors are accountable for is the education of our students. Although not a “business” in the traditional sense of the word, we have to approach governance in a “professional” and “business-like” manner. For this to happen, various procedures have to be put in place.
Having a good team around the board table
Governing bodies are made up elected and appointed governors. When appointing governors, the appointing authority should pay due regard to the needs of the board. Gaps in skills should be identified and people with the requisite skills and experience recruited. As far as the elected governors are concerned the board can, and in my opinion should, inform the electorate about the skills and qualities it is looking for in the prospective governor.
Having a common vision
Developing a strong vision is important. The vision is your “goal”; it defines where you hope your school would be in the future. Without knowing where you would like to be, it would be very difficult to work out how to get there. A strong vision is important as it will define the future development of the school for the staff members and will show parents and students where you hope to be in the future. People sometimes term mission statements as their vision statements. Vision is the destiny, whereas mission is the journey. Define the vision and then formulate the mission to get you there.
Having a good “business plan”
For any business to succeed there needs to be a good business plan. Schools are no different. Our business plan is the school development plan (SDP). As governors we need to make sure our SDP is fit for purpose. It needs to have clear priorities and targets, time scales by which targets are to be met and staff members, departments, governors or committees linked to each of these targets. The SDP also needs to state what success criteria for each of these targets look like, if they are they measurable, how targets will be monitored and the impact theses targets are supposed to have.
Appointing a good Chairman of the “Board”
Although all governors are equal, the Chair is first among equals. The Chair is (or should be) the driving force. The Chair should be an experienced governor. The National Governors’ Association (NGA) advises that ideally a person should have served two years on the board before being appointed as Chair. Too often we see people appointed as Chairs because they are the only ones who are willing to take on the role and not because they are the best candidate. We do not see this happening in the corporate world and we should not let it happen on a school governing board either. There is also a debate on how long should a person serve as Chair. Again, the NGA advises that chairs should step down after four years.
Appointing the CEO
One of the biggest responsibilities of the governing body is the appointment of the Headteacher/Principal. The Headteacher is the CEO and the success of the company depends on who is appointed to lead the business on a day-to-day basis. The vision that the CEO has for the school should align with the vision of the board. Performance management of the CEO is one of the key tasks for the board. This should be a rigorous but fair process.
Relationship with the CEO
For a business to be successful, the relationship between the Chairman of the Board and the CEO is crucial. Schools are no different. The relationship that the Chair has with the Head is of vital importance. This has to be a professional relationship based on mutual trust. It should never turn into what is termed as a “cosy” relationship. One of the core purposes of governing boards is holding the Head to account. The Chair has to lead the board in holding the Head to account. It is for this reason that the relationship must remain professional at all times. Mutual trust is of immense importance to the relationship. The Chair may be called to act as a sounding board by the Head and the Head needs to be able to trust the Chair in order to do so. The other duty the board and the Chair have is to have regard of the Head’s work/life balance.
Appointing a Company Secretary/Clerk
The Company Secretary and Clerk role can be performed by the same person or two people could be employed to fulfil these roles. Academies have no legal obligation to appoint a Company Secretary, but if they choose to do so, they must ensure that a suitably qualified person is appointed to this post. The role of the clerk, now, is much more than that of a minute taker. Again, care should be taken to appoint a qualified person to this post. Ideally, the governing body should have an independent and professional clerk. A school employee should not act as a clerk to the governing body due to the potential conflicts of interest which may arise.
The Chair needs to make sure that the meetings of the governing board are efficiently organised and run. Agendas should be clear and linked to the SDP. Papers should be sent out in advance of the meeting and the Chair should make clear the expectation that everyone attending the meeting will come prepared. The Chair should lead the meetings in such a way that the focus steadfastly remains on the achievement of the students. This will also involve making sure that the governors are provided with the data they need to monitor and evaluate school performance.
A good Chair will evaluate his/her own and the governing body’s performance as well as that of the school. Chairs should try and do a 360o review of their performance. It is only through honest and frequent self evaluation that the board can judge its effectiveness and take steps to remedy any shortcomings.
Once the above procedures and practices have become embedded governing boards will be able to properly discharge their statutory responsibilities.
TheSchoolBus has revised our section for school governors based on the Governors’ Handbook 2014. Why not check out detailed guidance and resources for governors on TheSchoolBus. Click here to view our Governors section.