Trigger warning: This blog has been written because I felt the need to “rant”!
While browsing Twitter this morning I read a few tweets discussing a TES article. As this was on governance I naturally clicked the link to read it. I wish I hadn’t!
The article discusses how heads can “get the best” out of their governors. The second suggestion is a good one. Governors will, I think, appreciate hearing from the staff. They will appreciate being given an opportunity to interact with staff and to ask them questions directly. Staff, too, may appreciate being given the chance to talk about what they do. This will also bring governors and staff closer to each other with each understanding what the other does.
So what, I hear you ask, is my problem with the article? Well, the problem is the first suggestion. The suggestion is that heads should include a deliberate mistake in their reports to governors “just to check they’ve been reading it“. It is this suggestion that I find unhelpful and even patronising. Let me state right at the beginning that there are governors who turn up at meetings unprepared and not having read the papers beforehand.
This article, however, does not distinguish between those who come prepared and those who don’t. It makes a blanket generalisation which isn’t helpful. The article also states,”We try to get everything out in writing to governors with at least a week or a long weekend to read and digest the contents before the actual meeting.” There is no acknowledgement that “trying” to get the papers out on time is the problem. Legislation does not say that the school should “try” and send out papers in advance. Legislation actually requires that papers be sent out at least seven days in advance of the meeting. I find the “long weekend to read” comment funny too. Are governors not entitled to a work/life balance? Why should governors be expected to spend their weekend, long or otherwise, reading papers they should have had in advance? I’ve heard some people say that heads are busy so governors should not complain if papers are late. I’m sorry but that doesn’t wash! It’s part of the head’s job to supply the information requested by the governors and supply it at least seven days in advance of the meeting.
If a head feels that certain governors are attending meetings unprepared then I think the way to handle this is to have a quiet word with the Chair. The Chair, I hope, would have picked up this him/herself too and can deal with it in an appropriate manner. But peppering your report with deliberate mistakes in order to try and “catch them out” will not help matters and may ruin any trust that exists between the head and the governing body. What about those governors who have read the report and then question the deliberate mistake? How would they feel when the head replies, “Ah! That’s a deliberate mistake I put in there to see if you’d spot it. Well done for reading the paper.” Secondly, just because someone spots a typo doesn’t mean they will also ask strategic question. This isn’t the way to help governors think and ask strategic questions. Thirdly, what if they do spot it but say nothing because they want to spare your blushes thinkng you’ve made a silly mistake? Or what happens if governors spot the mistakes and send the report back with red marks all over it, asking it to be re-done? That’s the governors’ and the head’s time wasted!
Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Something to think about: In which other industry/job will you find the employee trying to catch out his/her employer by adding a mistake in the report the employer has asked for? Also ask yourself what sanctions would the employee face if this were to happen!
I’ll end by making two comments. Firstly, I hope this was an attempt at humour and not an actual serious suggestion to fellow heads. Secondly, as there are “good” governors out there, there are also excellent heads who are a joy to work with, who enjoy and welcome the challenge and support from the governors and who think that the school is best served if the staff and governors work well together. One such head is Jarlath O’ Brien whose five ways for heads to turn governors into critical friends is well worth a read.