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The governor's blog: Why heads need friends, not critics

Phil Crompton, executive head of the Trent Academies Group, explains why it's important governors offer empathy and challenge in equal measure.

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In recent years, governors have been encouraged to challenge heads, to apply pressure to ensure they maintain standards and to show no sign of slacking. I think that’s a shame. Headteachers are put under pressure from Ofsted inspectors, from league tables, from executive heads, from staff, from parents and from students: it takes a resilient character to survive for more than a brief period. We don't need another critic throwing darts at us.

Instead, what we need from a governing body is a friendship. This is not a friendship where only platitudes are offered, but a true friendship where support, advice and, where necessary, challenge is always available. 

I’ve definitely benefited from the support of some excellent governors in my time. It doesn’t really take much; an hour every now and again to share the frustration of motivating an underperforming colleague, or working through a bureaucratic obstacle. There doesn’t need to be an outcome, I’ve found just being able to laugh (I should add cry, I suppose, but I’m a northern male so, of course, I won’t) and put things into perspective is helpful.

Governors have also become a mine of information. As heads, our role has shifted from being lead educator to business leader and this has meant that new skills have to be learnt. Finance, HR and property can be just a little scary when you are a geography teacher. My expertise has developed over the years because of help and assistance from governors. If we turn those governors into substitute Ofsted inspectors, that support will be harder to access. 

Governors have to continue to apply pressure, of course they do. But it should be through a close and strong friendship, not through the distance of an accountability measure. 

No headteacher goes to work in the morning aiming to do a bad job. Keeping all the balls spinning is a serious challenge and despite the rantings of a government determined to get value for money for the taxpayer, I hope that governors can consider the wellbeing of their most important asset and ensure that she or he is nurtured. Encourage headteachers and more will emerge. Beat them up, and others will hide under the blanket. 

Phil Crompton is executive head of the Trent Academies Group which comprises three Nottingham schools: Rushcliffe School in West Bridgford, The Farnborough Academy in Clifton and Arnold Hill Academy in Arnold.

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