How to be more effective

7th March 1997 at 00:00
Terry Mahoney suggests methods by which the commitment of governors can generate a real improvement in the quality and outcome of their voluntary efforts

Advice aimed at making school governing bodies more effective and recent research have highlighted worrying themes of work overload, role confusion and boundary disputes. Office for Standards in Education reports echo the research and find little evidence that governors are having any impact on standards.

Research on school effectiveness and improvement is largely silent on part governors play. While there are common-sense views of what makes an effective governor, no one knows whether what governors do makes a difference to the central purpose of the school or to the quality of teaching and learning.

A booklet written by academics from the London University Institute of Education, Governing Bodies and Effective Schools, (DFEEOFSTED 1995) suggested six key features of an effective governing body:

* Working as a team * Good relationship with the headteacher * Effective time management and delegation * Effective meetings * Knowing the school * Training and development.

A governing body wishing to review its effectiveness could take each feature and devise a number of performance indicators against which evidence could be collected.

For example, against "working as a team" they may look for evidence of induction of new members; knowledge of each other's names, backgrounds and governor responsibilities; how each governor is encouraged to contribute to the work. Against "effective meetings" they could look for evidence of clearly focused agendas, efficient clerking, strong chairmanship, concise and precise minutes; effective contributions from governors.

An effective governing body is not apart from its school. It must be an intimate part of it. Therefore it must be aware of what makes schools effective. Research has shown the common factors in effective schools to include:

* Professional leadership * Shared vision * Learning environment * Concentration on teaching and learning * Explicit high expectations * Positive reinforcement * Monitoring of progress * An emphasis on pupil rights rights and responsibilities * Purposeful teaching * A learning organisation * Home-school partnership

How does an effective governing body relate to each of these features? To promote the "learning environment", governors may focus on how they manage an effective, well-maintained working environment in which the atmosphere is orderly and purposeful. A "learning organisation" is one in which all are committed to continuous learning. To look at this governors could examine staff in-service training, governor training and development (some of it shared with the staff) and parental involvement in their own continued learning about what goes on in schools.

Lessons in Teamwork: how school governing bodies can become more effective, the Audit Commission and OFSTED suggests the governing body's main aim is improving the standards of achievement.

This approach challenges governing bodies with direct questions such as: "How do we keep ourselves up to date with developments in education?" "Are we well enough informed to play an active part in monitoring and improving standards of education?" "Are we able to question the headteacher and hold him or her to account?" "Do we receive enough comparative information about other schools?" The DFEE's latest report, Guidance on good Government produced by representatives from the main teacher and governor associations, from the church authorities and the Funding Agency for Schools says the key to effectiveness and improvement.

is "a culture of cooperation and trust within the governing body".

"Every governing body operates differently, according to the type of school, what the school's articles of government say, and who is on the governing body. As governors, your thoughts and opinions are important in helping the governing body to make decisions about the best interests of the school."

Any governing body which followed this booklet's guidance about the roles and responsibilities of governors and headteachers "and ways in which they can work together effectively" would put itself on the road to improvement.

Structured training and development are essential to effectiveness.

A 1996 Action for Governors' Information and Training survey found fewer governing bodies are buying into training. Are governing bodies too burdened with the pressures of doing the job that they are, by default, neglecting their own development? They may need to be reminded that their DFEE school-effectiveness grants should be spent on staff and governor training and that there is a slight increase of 5 per cent in such grants in 199798.

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