'Being a school governor is a poisoned chalice'

Let's strip back the role of school governors so they are only involved in issues they can influence, says Colin Harris

Colin Harris

The role of school governor needs to change, says respected headteacher Colin Harris

The school governor. It is a role that was once respected, cherished and appreciated by all. 

It was a role that many took on, as a badge of honour, in support of their local school.

But it has now become a poisoned chalice, to be avoided at all costs. It is a role that has become so difficult that some might even say it is impossible. 

In fact, the reality is now that recruiting a governor has become almost as difficult as getting teachers into schools

School governors are unpaid and unloved

And who would want to be a governor, unpaid, unloved and, in too many cases, simply replicating the jobs already being done in school, by the people who get paid to do them? 

Meeting times are often set when both governors and school staff would rather be doing something more constructive with their lives.

Schools are complicated institutions, and yet we complicate them more by having a governance structure that no one really wants. 

Each school is different, of course, and the roles and responsibilities expected of a governor in one school will differ from those in another.

Schools work hard to set up a governance model that works, only to lose key governors when a governor’s child leaves the school or when they realise that there is a life beyond the school door. 

The amount of training that goes into each governing body is enormous. Surely this time – and money – could be better spent.

A waste of professional time

Governance has had its day. It is a waste of professional time and does very little to improve the school. 

It is, therefore, time to look differently at the roles of governors. Let's strip back their roles to just two areas: areas in which governors can have a true influence.

There areas are:

These are areas that all governors understand, and in which they can play a full role. 

Governors could ensure that all pupils get a curriculum fit for purpose, making it both relevant and exciting. 

And then they could focus their attention on a role essential in today's society: the wellbeing of both pupils and staff. 

It would be far better to encourage governors to get involved in areas they could truly influence, rather than forcing them to attend countless meetings on areas where they have no interest or affinity.

I tip my cap to all governors for the work they all they do. But they are being asked to do an impossible role. 

Why not let our governors be successful again by allowing them to focus on roles they can truly influence? Schools would be the better for it. And perhaps we’d actually see people wanting to take on the role again.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories

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