As this year draws to a close, governors may be starting to think ahead to 2019. You may be thinking of elections for chair and vice chair. You may be planning to hold parent/staff governor elections if the terms of the incumbents are coming to an end. You may be aware that terms of some appointed governors are also coming to an end and vacancies will need to be filled. Hopefully, you have agreed the procedure of election for the chair and vice chair and equally importantly have a succession plan in place. Hopefully, also, you have conducted a skills audit so you can
- Let parents know which skills are lacking so anyone with the required skills may consider standing
- Appoint governors to plug the gap in skills
Once you have new governors in place, what should you do to ensure they are productive members of the governing body (GB)? Below are some suggestions. Is there anything else you would add?
Have a fit for purpose induction programme in place
People, who join a GB, in the very vast majority of cases, do so because they want to support the school. If this is the first time they have become a governor then, in all probability, they will not have a sound knowledge of what is involved. Even if they have been a governor elsewhere, no two schools are alike and therefore an induction bespoke for that particular school and GB is needed. I have written about induction in detail before. In short, some of the things a good induction programme should cover are
- The core responsibilities of governors
- The difference between operational and strategic matters
- To ensure that elected governors understand that their role is not to represent the constituency that elected them.
- To understand what is meant by conflicts of interest and how these are managed
- To understand that as governors you are not there to follow your personal agendas/look after your own child
It is a good idea to ask an experienced governor to mentor the newly appointed governor. A good induction and a good mentor can bring a new governor up to speed quite quickly.
Continued Professional Development (CPD)
A CPD programme is essential. Governors need to ensure that they continuously evaluate personal and GB’s training needs and put into place mechanisms for governors to access these. I have previously written about this. Governors should be encouraged to attend educational events too. If your GB is an NGA member then do try to attend their conferences. Twitter is a great way to keep up to date. Encourage governors to sign up and follow accounts such as @UKGovChat Ofsted, National Governance Association, Sean Harford Department for Education
Facebook is another avenue to explore for CPD. There are groups which you can join which allow members to network and support each other such as School Governors UK, Jane-School Governor’s Group, SEN School Governors Forum (UK) and others.
People who join the GB after winning an election are governors, like other governors. They should understand that as governors they need to evaluate the information before them and come to a decision based on what they think is in the best interest of ALL children (for governors of single schools or member of local governing bodies (LGBs) this means ALL children of their school; for trustees this means ALL children of ALL the schools in the trust).
Have a code of conduct in place
It is very good practice for GBs to have a code of conduct which all governors read and sign upon joining and then annually. The code should cover the purpose of the GB and describe appropriate relationship between individual governors/trustees/LGBs, the whole GB and the executive leaders. It should also cover how breaches of the code would be handled.
It is also a good idea to have agreed role descriptors. These should cover
- All governors
- Vice Chair
- Committee chairs
- Link roles
- Safeguarding governor
- SEN governor
Having a document which lists what people occupying any of the above roles should do/should not do will help with the smooth running of the GB.
A school visit/monitoring visit policy
It is good practice to have a monitoring/visit policy in place. This should be drawn up with input from governors as well as the head and staff. A policy agreed by all will help in ensuring that the visits are productive. I have written about this before too.
Good communication channels
Sometimes parents/staff bring concerns to parent/staff governors because they have no other way of communication with the GB/school. Parents/staff may feel that the role of the parent/staff governor is to represent them. In such cases the governor should advice the parent/staff member about what to do. This may involve sign posting the complaints policy to the parent. The GB should ensure that there are good communication channels which parents can use to voice their views. This may involve conducting parent/student/staff surveys. Policies such as the complaint policy, grievance policy, whistleblowing policy, freedom of information policy should be readily available (on the website and in hard copy for those who want it). The website should also list names and contact details of governors.
When things go wrong and the role of the Chair
In the large majority of cases difficulties arise because people have not understood their position and role properly. A governor may go into school on a monitoring visit but do it in such a way that the head/staff feel uneasy. An elected governor may be under the impression that they are there to represent the people who elected them. A governor who has a child at the school may, unwittingly, be promoting the interest of the child rather than ALL the children. The induction programme and the code of conduct should cover all this but if there is still an issue then the role of the chair becomes crucial. In the vast majority of cases the Chair can help resolve the situation by having a quiet word with the governor. As I mentioned before, in the vast majority of situations difficulties arise when people aren’t clear about governance and the Chair can clarify this. This should be done in such a way that the governor does not feel they are being picked upon. This is why a quiet word is better than tackling it in a meeting. It may also transpire that the governor has legitimate concerns which the Chair can think about and take appropriate action. Another thing which chairs should watch out for is that it is not the head’s role to have a word with the governor. If the head has some concerns then they should speak to the chair who will then try and resolve the matter.
It is good practice for governors to evaluate their own and the entire GB’s performance so that any changes which need to be made can be highlighted.
If you do not have an independent, professional clerk, then do think of appointing one for next year.
Hopefully, with these measures in place governance will be smooth.
One last thing; governor wellbeing matters. As governors you work very hard during the year. This is on top of your day jobs/other responsibilities. Do take the opportunity to relax and recharge over the summer.