Governance is hugely important but, for the most part, it is usually hidden till things go wrong. Raising profile of school governance is important. If we shout about what good governance is, we can contribute to sharing of good practice. By making governance more visible we can also encourage more people to join boards thereby increasing the diverse pool of expertise available to boards. All this will help ensure school provide a good education to all our children which is why the vast, vast majority of get involved with governance in the first place.
One of the ways I have been doing this is by putting my name forward to speak at various events, especially events where the audience will have a mixed audience. The latest such event was the IGNITE event organized by BELMAS (British Educational Leadership and Administration Society).This was one of a series of events being organized to celebrate the 50th birthday of BELMAS. The event was held online and had a very interesting format. Presenters were allowed three minutes to speak on various aspects of leadership. I submitted a proposal to speak on governance and was accepted (thank you, BELMAS). The event was chaired by Prof Megan Crawford.
As I had three minutes and in the audience would be people who may not know much about governance, I decided to keep to the basics. My presentation is as below (this is not a transcript so differ slightly from what I said during the event).
I will be speaking on governance leadership.
Effective governance is key to ensuring success of schools. The purpose of governance is to provide confident leadership. Board members are strategic, non-executive leaders of the organisation. Irrespective of the type of organisation they lead, they have three core functions; ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction; holding school leaders to account and ensuring the financial health of the organisation.
As strategic leaders board members bring about school improvement indirectly. Being custodians of the vision and finances, they ensure that the resources are allocated to best achieve the strategic goals. Through their monitoring and by in-depth questioning of data they help drive school improvement. And finally, they provide support to the executive leaders, the heads.
Board members understand that members of the school management are operational leaders. Effective governance ensures that creating the vision and strategy is a collaborative effort between the strategic leaders on the board and the operational leaders of the organisation who then create the operational plan. A good relationship between the non-executive and executive leaders is essential. The board is often described as a critical friend and the relationship as one of challenge and support. Prof Chris James and colleagues argue that these terms are unhelpful as they appear to give the impression of the board being critical and confrontational. They suggest that the work of the board is best described as one of scrutiny.
Board members have a crucial role to play in community engagement. The arrival of MATs on the educational scene has brought governance challenges. Some communities feel a sense of disconnect with the trust board and there is perceived lack legitimacy of this governance model. In my view leadership at the local school level should be maintained. Every school or a small local cluster of schools should have a local governing body with its membership consisting of people who have strong links with the local community and an interest in their school.
The board leadership is the accountable leadership of the organisation. The current educational system is one of high stakes accountability. The board leadership faces accountability pressures itself from central government, from local authorities, from communities etc. Effective boards ensure that they hold the executive leadership to account in a way which doesn’t lead to fear in the organisation but instead is a way of determining what isn’t working and putting it right.
Finally, governors also play an important role in system leadership by serving as National Leaders of Governance.
During the discussion someone asked about research into governance. I replied that, i my opinion, there isn’t as much research as there should be. Governance is an important area and should be researched robustly. So, if you were thinking of researching some aspect of governance, go for it!