Sunday, 20 February 2011

Principles of School Governance: Giving support and challenge

Giving support and challenge

Nobody can have been a governor for long without having heard the term 'critical friend'. It features in the next principle of governance, which defines the most effective approach of the governing body. This is the way in which we can fulfil our purpose of exercising public accountability.

The governing body, and every governor, must start from a position of being a friend to the school – someone who supports, offers constructive advice, can be used as a sounding board for ideas, gives a second opinion and just offers help where it is needed. A friend who is critical also has the skills to challenge sensitively, ask questions or seek information to ensure the best ideas and solutions are arrived at in line with the strategic framework. Critical friendship should not be seen as a restriction on the powers of the school's management but as a beneficial quality brought to decision making and policy development since it allows the headteacher and appropriate staff to reflect on their own practice in a sympathetic and stimulating environment.

Challenging ideas and proposals does not mean that a headteacher should have to defend or justify every proposal he or she brings to the governing body. It certainly does not mean their having to explain every operational detail. A challenge from a governor should usually relate to the wider strategic framework or key development priorities. Questions that seek clarification can be helpful but not if details of management functions are repeated and combed through.

A confident headteacher will always invite questions and find challenge stimulating. They will always be willing to answer questions and provide information where the request is reasonable. But challenge should always be on a professional basis and should focus on the area under review. A confident governing body will give the headteacher the space to manage but will expect to hold them to account on how they manage within the strategic framework, not on operational details.

Exercising challenge and support should include some key tasks:

Evaluating the school’s performance against past performance, against other similar schools, and in the context of its operating environment.
Monitoring progress against the approved budget plan and targets.
Reviewing and revising policies and plans.

The material in this blog article has been drawn from Joined-up Governance book by Jane Martin and Ann Holt, revised edition 2010,Adamson Publishing.

It was reproduced on the website which you can sunscribe to for free here

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