Sunday, 6 February 2011

Do we really need School Governors?

Do we really need governors? One Head teacher's perspective of School Governance!

To many of head teachers, school governors are at best a mixed blessing. If they are well-informed and really care for the school, head teacher and for our teachers and children, then being a ‘critical friend’ is an excellent way of helping the school move forward in its vision.

But, as a head teacher recently suggested (probably after a difficult meeting), ‘My governors are so far off the pace that I spend most of my time trying to inform them about crucial issues rather than being challenged or held to account.’

Another head teacher, this time relaxing in a pub garden on a July afternoon, made his views quite clear: ‘I’m not convinced my governors influence what we do at all. I’m more influenced by the government and the LA demands and how we can realistically meet them. Whatever my governors think locally about the school and how to move forward is far outweighed by national issues.’

Since the 1980s schools have become increasingly independent of LAs but increasingly accountable to central government. As a result, governing bodies have had responsibilities heaped on them.

But, it needn’t overwhelm them. As headteachers we need to help our governors help us to manage our schools in their local contexts. We need to work together to twist national priorities and shape them to meet our local ones. This is really about governors setting strategic targets so that we can do all the planning and daily tasks that help us meet the crucial long-term strategies.

School Governors should be (and of course need to be) good at offering strategic leadership as well as challenging our performance. But the problem involved in resolving issues is that they need to be able to make the necessary time commitment to fully understand complex educational issues and be able to plan effectively. It is no good having excellent strategies without having the necessary plans to make them work. Commitment is a key factor to this.

Here is another head teacher’s opinion about the role and impact of school governors in education. ‘If you took my secretary away, or the caretaker, or my reception teacher or the SEN coordinator, it would have a huge impact on what happens to the children and how the school meets its targets for raising achievement, but if you took my school governors away! Well, what would happen? Would we notice?’

I am sure that school governors do their best to contribute constructively, and their involvement can help us move efficiently into the future; but let me ask some final questions.

Does the time spent talking to school governors, meeting with school governors, attending school governors’ meetings, providing piles of paperwork to school governors help as much as it should?

If we had fewer meetings, or even no meetings entirely; if we had no school governors at all, would it really make any difference?

Perhaps we should follow the reasoning of David Brailsford, British Cycling’s Performance director, who led his team towards the attainment of so many Olympic medals in China, when he said of his leadership: ‘I don’t do documents. I write very little.’ Aren’t we all capable, on our own, of asking ourselves critical questions and constantly challenging what we do and setting our goals a little higher each time? I don’t know a headteacher who is complacent and who doesn’t want to make every child’s’ life better. Do you?

This article is part of a larger article entitled 'School Governors Help or Hindrance' written by a former Primary head teacher called Roger Smith. The full article can be found on the teaching expertise website linked below.

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