Few of us were having a discussion on Twitter and a Mumsnet thread was pointed out. The title of the thread “Is your governing body run by a little clique?” compelled me to write this post.
Let me say, right at the beginning, that I do know that not all governing bodies operate the way they should. There are some real horror stories out there BUT there are great governing bodies and great governors too. The danger of threads/discussions like the one on Mumsnet is that it may put off people from joining governing bodies. It also does little for the morale of those of us who work really hard and within rules. So, this is my attempt to present the other side of the coin.
A committee is not a clique!
Governing bodies, by and large, assign the work that has to be done to committees (though the circle model is being used by many governing bodies, by and large it is the committee model which is prevalent). Governing bodies form committees and draft terms of reference for these committees taking into account what works best for their school. Some go for a two committee model, some for three or more. The terms of reference of these committees as well as the scheme of delegation agreed by the governing body will determine what these committees are expected to do. These committees meet, usually once a term, and carry out the tasks which have been delegated to them. If decisions need to be made, then the committee will make them, voting on these if necessary. The committees then prepare a report which is presented to the full governing body. Some of the decisions can only be made at the full governing body level. In this case the committee would have discussed the issue and come up with a recommendation which is then presented to the governing body which then takes a decision. The thing to remember is that if the governing body has decided on a structure which has committees, then the majority of the work is done at the committee level and reported to the full governing body. If the full governing body were to debate each and every issue again, then that would just be duplication of the work done at the committee level and a waste of time. Delegating the work to committees leaves the governing body free to focus its attention on those matters which cannot be delegated.
All committees are created equal!
One of the criticisms concerns the committee membership. Some people think that governing bodies work as cliques with some governors responsible for what are perceived to be the more important areas, for example curriculum, achievement, progress and finance. This criticism proves that people have not understood how governors are assigned to committees. Governing bodies should conduct skill audits and use these audits to inform committee memberships. Every governor will not have every skill needed by the governing body. Governing bodies identify the skills each member of the governing body has and then make the best use of these skills by asking them to sit on relevant committees. The other misconception is that some committees are “more important” than other committees. Governing bodies which have decided on a committee structure would have decided to have those particular committees because that is how they decided to divide the work and that is the structure which works best for them. No committee is more or less important than the other committees. For the governing body to function well and be effective, ALL committees need to function well. When we converted we adopted the three committee structure. The three committees are Achievement and Curriculum, Resources and Students, Parents and Community (SPC). I became a member of the SPC Committee. At no point did I ever think that I was a member of a committee which was less important than the other two. If your governing body has decided to go with the committee model then these committees will perform different but equally important functions. It would be wrong to think that governors on, for example, the Finance or Curriculum committee are behaving like a clique just because they happen to be on those committees or that they are in any way more “important” than governors on other committees. It is also worth remembering that governors can attend meetings of other committees too although they won’t be able to vote on any matter. So, every governor has a chance to understand which decisions are being made and why, firstly by reading the minutes and papers of committees, asking for clarification at full governing body meetings and by requesting to attend meetings of committees other than the one they are members of.
Parent governors are different from union reps!
While reading this Mumsnet thread, I also came across something else which needs clarification. Parent governors are not elected to the governing body to represent the views of parents. They are representative parents not parent representatives. This is an important distinction which needs to be understood by the parents as well as the parent governors. People become governors via different routes but once appointed they are all of equal stature and their core purpose is to look out for the interests of ALL the students.
Some people reading this post will say that not all governing bodies behave in the way I’ve described above. This is true and these governors need good quality training but that’s another post! This post, however, is not about the bad or the ugly but about the good. If you are thinking of becoming a governor don’t let the horror stories put you off. There are excellent governing bodies out there that are nothing like the ones described on Mumsnet! Those of you who understand your duties and obligations and operate within statutory boundaries, rest assured that you are appreciated for the difference you make and the time and energy you devote to your schools.