On 14th April 2018, I attended and presented at #BrewEdLeicester. My slides and brief explanatory notes of the slides are as below.
I started my governance life as a parent governor in a secondary school. The school then converted to become an academy and I became a trustee and director in the SAT. The school then joined a MAT so that meant that I became a member of the Local Governing Body. I am also a trustee in a MAT of primary schools. I am a blogger and blog on governance and other stuff. I tweet, a lot! I’m the co-founder (along with @JaPenn56) of @UKGovChat which some of you know is a twitter forum for governors. Since my link to education now is through governance that is what I will be talking about today.
So, first, let me tell you a bit about the people who govern our schools. Governors are the largest volunteer force in England. There are about 250-300, 000 governors in England.
According to the 2017 NGA and TES survey 53% of respondents were 40-59 years old. We obviously need more young people to join governing bodies.
The same survey also looked at the ethnicity of governors. A greater proportion of older governors are white. If we look at the younger governors then we see more people from different ethnic backgrounds joining governing bodies which is a good thing but more needs to be done to increase diversity of governing bodies.
As far as gender is concerned then the survey showed that there are more female governors than male ones in primary, secondary and special schools.
So, what do these 250,000 people actually do (besides sit on the stage at school events)? One of our core functions is to ensure the clarity of vision and ethos. The GB appoints the head and this is perhaps the most important thing that governors will do. We appoint someone who we feel will help us deliver our vision. Yes, it is a partnership; it has to be for it to work well but ultimately it’s the governors who will determine the vision, culture and the ethos of the school.
It’s the governing body which sets the strategic direction of the school and decides where it wants to school to be in 5, 10 years’ time.
It’s our job to hold the school leaders to account for the performance of the pupils and the school and the performance management of staff. We ask questions, do monitoring visits and triangulate data to get a true picture of how the pupils and school is doing.
We are custodians of public money so another of our core functions is to look after the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.
Talking about what governors do leads very nicely to a very important point; the difference between operational and strategic. Imagine that your neighbour placed these colourful eggs by the fence and it wasn’t Easter. You can chat to them over the fence and ask them why they’ve got eggs by the fence but you wouldn’t jump over the fence and rearrange or remove the eggs, put them in a basket and store them in the shed. In the same way, as governors we ask the school leaders to explain to us what they’ve done and why but we don’t try and do it for them. We need to remain strategic and leave the operational day to day running of the school to them.
Now that we know what role governors play in schools let’s talk about why people should join a governing body.
There are various reasons why people join governing bodies.
- Schools are an important part of the community and governance allows you to give something back to your community
- You get to learn to work strategically and do long term planning
- You learn about financial planning and management of organisations
- If you are an academy governor you learn about charity and company law
- You get to meet governors from other fields such as business, law etc and this helps you look at things from different perspectives.
When governors were asked about what motivated them to become governors then these were the reasons given by them. As you can see improve/support school is right at the top.
You may be asking yourself why am I talking to you about becoming a governor. You may be thinking that you work in a school and volunteering as a governor of a school is a bit like a busman’s holiday! Trust me! There’s a lot to be gained by you and by others.
A big advantage of volunteering as a governor is that it’s very useful, free CPD.
- You get to work at a strategic level.
- You get an opportunity to shape the strategic direction of the school.
- You learn to see things from a different perspective.
- You can even get some leadership experience by chairing a committee or a working party.
- You learn about governance which for many is something of a mystery!
- You see firsthand how heads and governors work together which is good training for you if you decide to go for headship one day.
But there are challenges too if you decide to become a staff governor in your school.
- You are a representative staff member
- You are not a staff representative, not a union rep. There a difference between being a representative staff member and a being staff representative which you and others will need to understand.
- There may be an expectation from staff to report back after GB meetings. That’s not your job, unless specifically asked to do so by the GB.
- Governance is about asking questions and this may mean you have to challenge your boss.
- Conflicts of interest have to be managed. There will be times you can’t participate in governing body business, for example pay committee.
But despite these challenges, the rewards are great!
As Mel, a teacher, says, it’s a very good way of finding out how the governing body works
And as Philip, a trainee teacher, says it’s a very good way of finding out how schools work, especially the behind the scenes work that goes on.
One thing which I haven’t mentioned is that we don’t get paid; in fact many times we spend our own money on governance. We are volunteers working to make schools better and trying to ensure that all our children receive the best possible education. So love’s got everything to do with governance! All we ask for in return is some appreciation of what we do and an occasional slice of cake!
Slide 23 and 24:
Some examples to show the difference between strategic and operational.