Principles and personal attributes which individuals bring to the board matter

Governance is coming under increasing scrutiny and rightly so. Every school deserves to have a good governing body and a governing body can only be as effective as the people serving on it. Below are some of the attributes that people serving on trust boards and local governing bodies (LGBs) should have.

Seven principles of public life; Nolan Principles

It is essential that school leaders (be they trustees, heads, SLT, people serving on LGBs) live by the seven Nolan Principles of Public Life.

  • Selflessness

    People serving on public bodies should act only in the interest of the public. In the case of people involved in governance they should ensure that they serve the interest of the school, students and the school community.

  • Integrity

    They must not place themselves under obligation to anyone who may influence them. They must act in the interest of the school and not take decisions in order to gain personal benefit.

  • Objectivity

    They must act fairly, without bias, not discriminate, and must base decisions on evidence.

  • Accountable

    They must understand that they are accountable for the decisions they take. Trustees and people serving on LGBs in MATs should understand that the trust board is the accountable body.

  • Openness

    They should act in an open and transparent manner. They should not withhold information from the public unless there are sound and lawful reasons to do so.

  • Honesty

    Honesty and truthfulness are essential characteristics for anyone involved in governance.

  • Leadership

    They should lead by example and challenge poor behaviour.

Seven “C”s from the Competency Framework for Governance

The recently published Competency Framework for Governance lists the following attributes which those involved in governance should have.

  • Committed

    They should be committed to doing the best that they can. They need to be committed to their development. The need to commit time and energy to the role. This will involve attending meetings well prepared and carrying out that they’ve been asked to do.

  • Confident

    They need to be confident enough to act independently, have courageous conversations and take part in discussions by expressing their opinions.

  • Curious

    They should be able to ask questions and be analytical.

  • Challenging

    They should not accept data at face value. They should be able to ask challenging questions in order to bring about school improvement.

  • Collaborative

    They should be able to work in a collaborative manner with the rest of the members of the governance team, head, senior teachers, parents, students and community.

  • Critical

    They should understand their role of a critical friend. They should be endeavour to improve their own performance as well as the performance of the whole team

  • Creative

    They should be able to be creative while solving problems, try new approaches and be innovative thinkers.

Other attributes

  • Provide challenge and support

    They should understand what is meant by support as well as challenge and be prepared to provide both. Many people find the challenge bit of the job hard, but that is the most important bit! Many people think that the word challenge means you have to be confrontational. That is not the case. Challenge just means asking the right questions to get all the information you need to perform your job.

  • Pull their own weight

    Governance is a huge and complex undertaking. Every member of the board should do his/her fair share of the work. The right governor will volunteer to do some of the tasks that have to be done. This may be monitoring visits, learning walks, attending school events and taking up a specific role (such as the SEN Governor).

  • Understand difference between strategic and operational

    They should understand the difference between being strategic and operational. The right governor is one who can be described as “eyes on, hands off” or “strategically engaged, operationally disengaged”.

  • Team player
    The governing body is a corporate body and each and every member needs to understand this. Governors should understand that

    (a) They cannot do anything they have not be delegated to do
    (b) Once a decision has been made, then that is the corporate decision and governors need to abide by it. They are allowed to express their opinion (and should!) during the discussion stage. Once a decision is reached, even if that wasn’t their preferred option, they have to abide by it and carry it through.

  • Not afraid to speak up

    They should be able to speak their mind. They should be able to bring up a difficult topic during a meeting and only during a meeting! This goes hand in hand with the point (b) I made above. If they feel strongly about something they should be able to speak up at the meeting. If the other members don’t agree then they should accept it and not carry on the conversation outside the boardroom.

  • Manage conflicts of interest

    They should be able to recognise and manage conflict of interests. There will be times when there will be conflicts of interests. The right governor is one who can recognise when these situations arise and knows what to do when this happens.

  • Understand duties

    They should understand and fulfil their statutory duties. They should understand their responsibilities under equality legislation. Academy Trustees should understand that they have duties under the Company Law and Charity Law.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can add more to the list so please do because for good governance getting the right people around the table matters. It is also important to remember that it’s not necessary that everyone will have these skills when they join. As long as you are willing to learn and develop these skills, you will be an effective governor.

I’ve made a Powerpoint presentation based on the above.

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