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Does your body need a health check?

Jane Martin takes her monthly look at issues affecting governors

SO we hear again that governing bodies may not be carrying out their role effectively and need to stand on their own feet (TES, February 16). The best governing bodies are those that reflect on their own performance and check how they are doing. The easiest way is to follow a simple programme of "self-review". There are several available. Annual self-review (as part of whole-school self-review) will help the governing body reflect on roles and responsibilities - a sort of health-check. You should get a pat on the back for what is going well but also be prepared to change the way things are done.

The review meeting should include all governors and be separate from the normal business - even off-site if you can. If necessary, get an LEA facilitator.

Most programmes consider key aspects of the governing body and asks questions about how well these are carried out. The following prompts would be effective:

* Working as a team * Effective delegation * Carring out a strategic role * Managing the business * Being a "critical friend" * Knowledge of the school * Training and development * Fulfilling legal requirements The governing body (not individual governors) needs to assess performance against some agreed criteria for each aspect - usually based on good practice. For example, working as a team could be judged against the statement: "Every governor contributes to the work of the governing body."

The idea is to give yourselves a score for each aspect indicating strengths and weaknesses - but the value of the exercise is also in the discussion and agreements made about future practice. The session should end with a simple action plan which maintains and builds on the things that are going well and amends others to work better.

If OFSTED and the Audit Commission are right, governing bodies probably need to spend more time thinking about how they perform the strategic role and if they really do act as "critical friends" who support and challenge the school to improve.

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