Many governors want to become more actively involved in planning the long-term direction of their school. They also know they have a responsibility to monitor the effectiveness of school management and ensure that the school provides value for money. However, the National Audit Office has found that many governing bodies defer to the headteacher and do little more than rubber stamp his or her plans and budget. How then can governors work with the head to improve planning and lay down broad parameters for the management of their school?
The starting point is to agree with the headteacher a set of values which are then encapsulated in the school's aims. These should be a general statement of broad direction and intent. Most schools have aims, but often they are a set of worthy statements which mean little to staff and pupils and have only passing relevance to the school's management. The aims should give a sense of purpose to the school and focus on the promotion of the quality of learning, equality of opportunity and standards of achievement.
Most importantly, they should then be translated into objectives in the school development plan in which it sets out its priorities in measurable, costed objectives to be achieved within a specific time.
This plan is at the heart of the school management process. Governors can become closely involved. The Department for Education has said the main purpose of school development planning is "to assist the school to introduce changes successfully so that the quality of teaching and standards of learning are improved".
The plan enables the school to organise what it is already doing and what it intends to do in a more purposeful and coherent way. It must be collaboratively devised and ratified formally by both governors and staff.
The planning process begins with the school's review of its own work. Governors can participate in this collective clarification of thought and can make a particularly important contribution in areas where their personal or professional interests are relevant.
The review is the starting point in the process described by Hargreaves and Hopkins in the excellent DFE booklet Planning for School Development as: Where is the school now? What changes do we need to make? How will we manage these changes over time and how shall we know whether our management of change has been successful?
The next task is to make the plan the essential management tool of the school which means it must be easily understood by all staff. It can be set out in a tabulated form showing the title of the area for development (identifying those which emerge from inspection), giving more specific detail in note form under each heading. It should set out detailed targets for the next financial year and broader more general targets for the next two years. It should specify and cost organisational modifications, staffing and resources implications and policy changes, and it should name the member of staff giving the lead, and the member or group of staff responsible for monitoring.
A small number of success criteria should be set out against which progress will be evaluated. Governors can participate in the evaluation and monitoring process through the work of sub-committees or through structured visits to the school.
The plan can be tiered. It should, most importantly, identify a limited range of whole school developments. Faculties too should have their own development plans set out in a similar format.
A building plan, which like the staff development plan, is a sub-section of the main school plan, should set out building priorities over a three-year term. The staff plan sets out the support needed to enable staff to deliver the priorities set out in the main plan.
It is essential to link the budget with the school development plan. Costing and projecting ahead, and examining different costed models, is one approach which enables governors to make more informed decisions.
However governors often feel they are dealing with small, peripheral amounts of discretionary finance, or constantly whittling away at provision rather than tackling the more central resource implications of curriculum content, school organisation, class size and teacher workload.
These more fundamental issues can be tackled by zero budgeting whereby the existing curriculum of the school is costed on base-line assumptions - such as all teachers teaching all week and taking classes of 30. By working from this baseline, the cost implications of the introduction of new subjects, shifts in class size and the amount of teacher non-contact time can then be calculated and set against their perceived value.
But good management is not only about mechanisms and systems. There is a more subtle process at work which involves listening, communicating, motivating and working with people to weld them into a team. The individual strengths, interests and abilities of all staff and governors can then be brought together to improve pupils' standards of achievement. That's when the real satisfaction of being actively involved as a governor begins.
Martin Titchmarsh is headteacher of the Nobel School, Stevenage.