Governors – a new approach


Frustrated by the failings of the current system of school governance, our headteacher diarist suggests a new, more professional approach.

In his fabulous 1956 autobiography The Clown Prince of Soccer, the eccentric post-Second World War Sunderland striker Len Shackleton famously left a blank page for the chapter entitled: What the average director knows about football.

More recently, there were many wry smiles at the humorous publication of Everything I Know About Teaching, a book containing nothing but blank pages and which was attributed to Mr Michael Gove.

With apologies to the late Mr Shackleton and to the joker behind the Mr Gove, er, tome, if I ever had the temerity to write an autobiography, I would steal this idea and retitle it: “What the average governor knows about education.”

It is not that these lovely, caring, dedicated and unpaid people are trying to do a bad job. It is simply that, like much in education, a flawed system is being manned by untrained people, resulting in meetings that too often, in my experience, resemble something out of The Vicar of Dibley.

I should of course acknowledge that there are many governors out there who are highly skilled and provide robust challenge for their schools, but I fear that these are the exception, rather than the rule.

At a recent meeting, half of the volunteers could not make the 6:30pm start, meaning that the teaching staff governors ended up working a 14-hour day.

Once we were underway, topics ranged across a number of crucial subjects, from whether the school should take a leap of faith and open a 6th form centre to what I as a male headteacher intended to do about the black bra, short skirt phenomenon!

Let’s be honest, many who become governors are parents and volunteer for the role for the laudable reasons of wanting to have an impact and support their children’s school.

However, this particular role then becomes difficult with the distinction between being a parent and a governor rarely maintained.

Without strong leadership, governors can then fall into the same trap of school councils, discussing issues such as the correct amount of homework and the uniform, rather than the actual governance of a school.

Like much in education, with the demise of support networks and the local authority, there is a desire and a need for a more robust system. 

Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw stated in his annual report in February 2013 that “we need a more professional approach” and that governors should be given “appropriate training and take a strategic role”.

He also correctly alluded to the need to pay governors for their key role, the hope being – as with all things in this government – that pay will improve quality.

This would of course be monitored by the all-seeing big brother Ofsted!

In the more than a year since this report, I have been on three Ofsted school inspections, all of which have effectively ignored the role of the governor. I have also attended numerous governor meetings and in my view nothing has changed.

It is my strong view that a new approach is needed which should see the removal of governors – this system is ineffective and wastes everyone’s time.

The role of the school improvement partner should be the key to school challenge and improvement, with an action plan from Ofsted informing this process. This could in fact be a job for the skilled HMI inspectors – a paid job for skilled professionals, not hopeful, helpful amateurs.

Then we might even get home before 9pm!

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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