As I prepare for my first governing body meeting of the academic year, and my first with this particular set of governors, I thought it would be wise to reflect on how the role of school governance has evolved in the last decade.
In my first teaching job 11 years ago, I only really knew who the chair of governors was (because she interviewed me), but aside from her, I wouldn’t be able to name any other members of the governing body.
I can say with absolute certainty that I didn’t know what the governors actually did or what their responsibilities were. As I’ve progressed in my career and entered senior leadership teams my understanding of school governance has obviously improved, but I have noticed a significant shift in how governors have had to work.
We have experienced an unprecedented amount of change in education in recent years and it is no surprise that as schools have come under increasing scrutiny, so has the role of governors.
Whenever I have given advice to colleagues who are considering applying for jobs in a different school, particularly in middle and senior leadership roles, I have stressed the importance of knowing who the governors are, and understanding their vision and values for the school.
In previous years, when I may have applied for assistant or deputy head jobs, my focus would probably have been largely focused on what the head was like, and would I be able to work with them?
Of course, that still remains of paramount importance, but since the academy revolution, finding out about the governing body has become just as crucial.
Governors, as we know from reading the Ofsted Inspection Handbook, are highly accountable and as such should be providing appropriate challenge and support for their senior leadership teams.
It is the governing bodies, or directors or trustees in many academies, that are the driving force behind the ethos, culture and direction of a school, and the head might merely be the person who is responsible for making it happen.
This is quite a different dynamic and schools have had to adapt to this rapidly in recent years. It has increased the importance of having a governing body which actually knows what it is doing, knows what questions to ask – and when to ask them – and, most importantly, has the interests of the students at the heart of everything they do for the school.
If we do not fully understand the motives and morals of the governing bodies that hold us to account then we might find we are working for an organisation whose values we do not agree with and I know several colleagues who, with the benefit of hindsight, would never have signed on the dotted line if they had known what the governors were like.
Governor education is critical and within the three governing bodies that I have worked with directly there has been a huge variance in the level of understanding and knowledge. Previously, I have sometimes found myself telling the governors the sort of questions that they should be asking me if they are to fulfil their roles properly – and this doesn’t fill you with the greatest confidence.
Luckily, I have done my homework on my new governors and in the brief period of time that I have interacted with them so far, I have been impressed with their levels of expertise and understanding of the modern world of education. I’m hoping that I feel the same way after my meeting this week!
SecEd’s new headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.