Pass the sherry and where are the bourbons?

The perception that school governors are biscuit munching sherry drinking do-gooders was inadvertently reinforced by Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State for Education. The reality is radically different.

The concept of a governing body being a genial group of amateurs who rubber stamp the plans of the paid educators has long gone in most schools. Those which are left are slowly being found wanting by Ofsted.

The focus of a governing body should never waver from the children in school. Their education remains the sole and most precious part of governance and this should never be forgotten.

No one wants to work in or send their child to anything but a good school. Since governance became an integral part of the leadership and management strand of every Ofsted report most governors have been well aware that their underperformance can have serious implications.

There is no area of school life which governance does not oversee. From performance managing the head teacher and setting the budget governance decisions impact education throughout every school. Just as the governing body is accountable to stakeholders and Ofsted so the school leadership team is accountable to the governing body.

Many educators don’t fully understand the role of governance and this can cause issues. Governance is not a financial sign off; we can and do say “no”. Neither are we a management committee, in many schools the governing body is the employer. If the head teacher underperforms it is the governing body that dismisses them.

Intriguingly almost all head teachers choose to be governors and fail to undertake governor training. There seems to be a perception that being an educator working in a school is sufficient. It’s not. The roles, rules and regulations are different. This basic lack of subject knowledge in an important part of school life can cause unnecessary tensions and misconceptions between the head teacher, senior leadership team and the governing body. If everyone knows what they are supposed to do life is much simpler.

With expanding local school autonomy has come increased responsibility for governors. Many announcements made that “head teachers can now” are additional governing body responsibilities. This fundamental lack of understanding of how schools work is increasing governance workload and work complexity.

Governing bodies have to ensure value for money, impact on education and drive school improvement. We constantly ask “why” and look for reasoned evidenced education explanations. We are part of the wider accountability mechanism to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent correctly.

The current feeling among the majority of governors is that we should not be paid for our role. The reasoning behind this is that we acknowledge there would be no new money and we would not want to take resources from an already stretched system. This is misinterpreted as placing a lack of value on governance but is driven by the very reason most volunteer.

Instead of asking should governors be paid it be could suggested that all public voluntary roles be unpaid. This would take us straight back to the number one Nolan principle “Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.”

The breadth of skills, local knowledge and personal commitment in the average governing body would be difficult to find in any comparable public sector board.

Its time that the educational establishment started to value governance; replacing us with a paid alternative would not be easy or cost effective.

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