When governors attend their first board meeting, they often leave a bit confused. This confusion is understandable; very few governors are told what their role entails before they take up their post.
However, this confusion could have repercussions for schools. Governors are an integral part of school leadership, and the governing body needs to be clear about how best to move its school forward in order to enact change.
Like many aspects of education, governance did not arrive fully formed as a concept. What a governor is (and what a governor does) is an idea that has evolved over decades; our responsibilities have been added to year-on-year. Like educators, our direction is constantly being tweaked by politicians. This year, the idea of a governor as a “critical friend” has been demoted to below financial scrutiny in the Department for Education’s governor handbook. Last year, there was emphasis on the pupil premium and the Olympic legacy. Now, we’re expected to focus on British values. The pace of change is relentless for us all.
Despite this, our core purpose beyond the distractions will always remain the same: providing the very best education for each and every child in school. All governors should realise that everything else, all the minor quibbles, will always be subordinate to this aim.
When we review teacher and headteacher performance, we want to see how their work positively impacts on children’s life chances. We need to ensure that our staff get every chance to develop their skills and grow into the best they can be. One individual’s improvement will benefit not only that teacher but the school, the children they teach and society as a whole.
When we examine finances, we’re making sure that money is spent on resources that have the best possible educational impact on children. And, as an aside, this underpins why so many governors are against being paid: they don’t want to divert funds from children’s education.
When we self-review governance, we check that we are not inadvertently limiting the potential of our school. Research has shown that there is a clear link between good governance and positive outcomes for the school and, therefore, the children. Conversely, a poor governing body can limit not only the Ofsted grade of a school but also the lives of the children in that school. Nobody wants that. Governors and teachers do what we do for a reason: we care. But caring by itself is not enough. Governors need to have a thorough grounding in what is expected of them as soon as they take up their post. If we are able to achieve that, hopefully far fewer governors will be leaving their first meeting with that familiar look of bafflement on their faces.
Martin Matthews serves as a national leader of governance (NLG) and chair of governors.