With National School Governors’ Awareness Day taking place on 28th February, it seems appropriate to reflect on a question I am often asked. My friends, family and colleagues know I am a school governor, but most don’t have clarity on what that means: they don’t know; what school governors do, why governors exist, or what is expected of them.
I have been a governor for many years and have honed my elevator speech, in response the perennial question. Just in case I find myself in an express lift, I can now expound my role, and that of other school governors, in an economic four words. Governors, ensure through seeking assurance.
I realise that for some that requires a little further explanation, which I am happy to provide, but still insisting that these four words do very accurately describe what governance is all about. Governors are at times described as the guardians of their schools and academy trusts and the idea that we are guardians of all that our schools are and do is a good start point. We ensure, as governors and trustees, that our schools are providing the best possible learning and the best possible care for pupils, staff and our communities. The seeking assurance is crucial to understanding the governance role and is helpful when describing expectations to prospective governors. Seeking assurance describes the way in which governance operates and more importantly points to what we do not get involved in. Governance is strategic and effective school governance has an accurate strategic overview of the school and its work, achieved, not by getting operationally involved in the day-to-day working of the school, but through focussing on the big picture. The big picture should include assurance that pupils are making good progress in their learning, are safe, happy and developing as responsible young people ready being prepared for the next stage of their lives.
How we seek assurance is determined through the structures we have in place in governance and through our monitoring and evaluation of the school’s work and its impact. A number of governing bodies and trust boards now operate a flat structure, where the main board meets every half term and the agenda covers all elements of the school’s work that governance should have oversight of, including pupil progress, the curriculum, safeguarding, pupil attendance, staffing, mental health and well-being, premises issues and many more aspects that inform the strategic overview of school effectiveness. In many schools and most trust boards the workload is divided up and delegated to committees of governors. Committees should all have delegated terms of reference, detailing precisely what they do including any decision making that the board has given them the responsibility for. But the core task is the same; the committee ensures by seeking assurance.
There is an expectation on all governors and trustees that they regularly reflect on their collective and individual professional development (i.e. training) needs. This ensures they stay abreast of the aspects of the governance role that they need to focus on and are aware of the statutory framework that underpins much of the task of governance. Compliance, with the legal framework, is the backbone of governance and as with all other aspects of our role, our task is to seek assurance that our schools are compliant.
The education system in this country is more diverse than ever before, but whether we are governors in a maintained school, or in an academy trust, whether we are governors, directors or trustees, or operate at a local school level within a trust, governance is governance and whilst the scope may vary a little, the essence of governance remains the same. We ensure that our schools and trusts are providing the best possible learning and the best possible care, for all pupils. It is this modus operandi that allows to meet the expectations that government and demonstrates that we are collectively holding our schools to account.
By Steve Barker
Head of Governance Services – Strictly Education