Dream teams

17th March 1995 at 00:00
Felicity Taylor on the essential qualities which all heads and governors should have.

Which is best? A decision taken by one person who believes that because of professional skills, knowledge and experience, his or her decision must be the right one. Or a decision taken by a group of people with an interest in the result, contributing their own knowledge and experience, in the light of professional advice.

The answer to that simplistic question could depend on a number of factors. What kinds of decision are we talking about? Does it need flair and vision, an imaginative and possibly risky leap forward? Or does it need to take a disparate group with many different agendas along with it?

In other words, who would run the better school: Napoleon or Clement Atlee? Do we perhaps expect heads to combine the best or worst of both? We hear a great deal, rightly, about the importance of purposeful leadership in running an effective school. That begs quite a lot of questions about what we mean by purposeful. Saddam Hussein, for example?

The heads' unions are making great play with the numbers of resignations and recruitment difficulties. They feel this proves there is something wrong with the system, and it is convenient to blame that on governors. Might it not be equally possible that there is something wrong with heads, or their concept of headship?

Maybe they are hankering after a golden age of Arnoldean glory. One wonders how Arnold would have got on in a contemporary inner city comprehensive. He might conceivably have done rather well, but there are not too many Arnolds every 100 years.

I question David Hart's two distinct aspects of the head's role (TES, January 20); being accountable to the governing body for the proper discharge of their responsibilities, and being the governors' professional adviser. There is a conflict of interest here. If accountability is to be valid and credible, the governors cannot rely solely on one source of professional advice, the head.

It has been said many times, not least by heads, that a school is not a commercial business, it is a people business.

In that case, the people who work there are fundamental to the success of the operation, and it cannot be right for their selection to be in the hands of one person only. Many heads value the participation of governors in the selection of staff. If there are heads who feel that their choice is constantly being thwarted, they should perhaps look more closely at the underlying reasons. Something more basic is wrong than a disagreement over which teacher to employ.

It is not surprising that many of the chairs of governors questioned in the recent Understanding British Industry survey felt they did not want or need training. The researcher should perhaps have asked some of the members of their governing bodies what they thought. Among people working with governors, it is well known that the people most in need of governor education tend to reject it.

I could cap any anecdote from David Hart about an interfering governor with one about a bullying head, but that merely reinforces existing prejudices. If we could agree about what we want from a head and a governing body that would be a step forward. I think heads should be:

* curriculum leaders with professional vision, skills and experience who can lead staff in teaching and learning; not proficient in every curriculum area, but aware of the issues and of successful strategies for learning and able to communicate these to staff;

* good managers, not trying to manage everything themselves but knowing their own strengths and weaknesses and when and what to delegate; trusting their colleagues or doing something about it if the trust is not merited;

* people who value others; not wishy washy "carers" or dispensing ersatz bonhomie, but giving genuine respect for the talents and values of all sorts and conditions of people. Pupils know whether or not this quality is there in a teacher and very much resent its absence;

* confident enough to reflect on criticism, act upon it if it is justified, cope maturely with it if it isn't.

I don't think that's too much to ask for a salary that is about three times the average wage. After all, we only need 25,000 of them.

I want a governing body to be:

* a representative cross-section of the school community and the world outside school;

* committed to the school, willing to give their time and support, to get to know the school at work, to defend it in public, however critical in private;

* active in committees, where the governing body can make a real contribution to the decision-making process;

* providers of common sense, fairness and a sense of perspective, accommodating difference without sanctioning incompetence.

Felicity Taylor is director of the Institute of School and College Governors

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