'Surely it’s time to reimagine the idea of school governors'

If we’re to maintain the role of governors, I’d like to see fewer sub-committee meetings and more political activism over things like funding, writes one celebrated school leader

Colin Harris

Coronavirus: Teachers' response to the coronavirus pandemic has been amazing, writes Colin Harris

During my career I have been a school governor in many guises. I have been a teacher governor, a parent governor, and a headteacher governor, and for a long period of time I was even a governor trainer...

Governors form the largest group of volunteers in the country with over 250,000 traipsing to meetings, unpaid, on evenings when I'm sure many would rather be somewhere else – including the sofa. They do this because they want to make their local school better and I applaud each and every one.

And yet I think it must be time, in 2019, to look at their relevance. It seems to me that the whole idea of governance by a rather random collection of local people might have become little dated.

Of course if we look at this in a glass-half-full kind of way we might talk of the strategic leadership offered, or the management support they can give to heads and senior leaders, or their independent views, or the policies they are responsible for.

In reality, however, governors’ meetings take up a vast amount of time and energy, and someone really needs to question whether they are worth it. At a full governing body meeting, the assembled group will normally talk through what has happened over the last few months, with, in my experience, little time spent on strategic development. For the headteacher, senior and office staff this can take a great deal of time. Countless hours are spent collating information that is not understood by all members, time that could and perhaps should be spent doing other things.

A great deal of work takes place in sub committees, but how much of what goes on actually moves a school forward? And as for governors visiting, or in many cases observing lessons, well, the less said about that the better. And what of the governors who have their own, often egotistical vision of what a governor should do? The damage they can do is immense.

Do schools today really need this style of governance? Isn't Ofsted, or the local authority/academy chain enough? Perhaps when it was introduced in the 19th century there was a reason, but nowadays? I really have my doubts.

Now if governance had a different role, more political perhaps, then I might think again. I’d like to see more fight – they should be taking on local government or Mats over funding, or taking the SLT to task over workload. I’m interested in the idea of an activist governing body. Then perhaps people might listen.

All governors I know are good people, who want to do their best for the school they support – but is that enough? Isn't it time governance was reviewed?

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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Colin Harris

Colin Harris

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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