Improving school governance: Book review

I was asked by Schools Week to review Nigel Gann’s new book “Improving School Governance” which I was very happy to do.  I gave the book five stars. My review is reproduced below. The orginal can be found here.

Book revie_Nigel

Schools are complex places, as is the process of governing them. Potential recruits to governance often find the workload and responsibility daunting, leaving many governing boards lacking the people and skills needed to fulfil their responsibilities. Any resource which can aid governors has to be welcomed. This book is just that!
The great thing about this book is that you can dip in and out of its ten chapters with ease; especially useful if you need guidance about a certain topic. The first chapter covers the fascinating history of governance, dating back to the 6th century! Such background is important as it gives context to where governance and governors find themselves today.

Ensuring the vision, ethos and the strategic direction of schools is one of the statutory duties of boards. The book describes the difference between vision and ethos, and outlines a process for defining these. Boards should look regularly at their vision to make sure it is fit for purpose.

The difference between “strategic” and “operational” is described in some detail. This is something which governors can, and do, get wrong. Governors need to concern themselves with the former and leave the latter to the Headteacher. The three elements of strategic governance are detailed, noting those areas which governors should monitor and, perhaps more importantly, those they should not. Readers also learn about characteristics of a good school visit.
Coinciding with the conversion of schools into academies, recent years have seen a move away from the stakeholder model towards a skills based recruiting regime. Both these models are compared and contrasted.

The book goes into some detail about the various roles which governors perform; discussing the role of the chair and vice chair as well as that of clerks. The role descriptors are particularly helpful.
The working of governing boards is also addressed. Induction of new governors, hallmarks of good meetings, legal responsibilities of governors and the rights of governors are outlined.

A significant element of governance is obtaining and interpreting relevant information from professionals. The relationship between the Headteacher and the board is important in this process and is examined in some detail. The appointment and appraisal of Headteachers is also discussed, making it clear that effective Headteacher appraisal is effective governance. The ways in which Headteachers can help develop boards is also examined. Readers will, hopefully, understand the difference between leadership and management. I would encourage governors to read the chapter which deals with worries that Headteachers might have about governance.

Any discussion of governance would be incomplete without mentioning inspection. The birth of Ofsted, the increasing importance of governance during school inspections and external reviews of governance are discussed.
The relationship parents have with their schools and boards is an important one and is examined in some detail.
As attention on governance increases, so does the necessity for boards to evaluate their own performance and the effect they have on improving school performance. The book is useful in helping readers understand “good governance” as well as the barriers to it.
The last chapter looks at the issues which governors are facing now and which might present themselves in the future. Understanding these is important from a strategic planning point of view.
The book provides governors with vital resources such as model policies, a pre-inspection checklist and a self evaluation tool and includes an extensive bibliography. This is especially useful for governors who would like to read around the subject.
My one minor point of contention; the use of the term ‘lay governors’. I know this has been used to distinguish between “professional” educators and governors but I would have preferred not to have used “lay” as a prefix.

Governors will find the book very useful in understanding the difference between being a friend of the school and being a governor of the school.

This book is a very welcome addition to the board bookshelf.


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