When does attention to immediate concerns militate against governors taking the longer strategic view of a school's needs? Terry Mahoney offers guidance as to where governing ends and managing begins.
Four years ago the Department for Education and Employment's official line on the difference between school governing and school management was: "There are no nationally agreed guidelines to reconcile the overall legal responsibilities of governors and heads with the need for the head to have clear responsibility for managing the school on a day-to-day basis. Each school must reach its own agreement." (Good Management in Small Schools DFE 1993) Such a laissez-faire approach is fine in the majority of schools which manage, with a great deal of goodwill, trust and commitment from headteachers and governing bodies, to run happy successful schools. But, every so often, cracks appear.
These have been highlighted in the reports of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector over the past three years. These suggest that governors sometimes do too little and make ineffective contributions to strategic planning and, occasionally, they may do too much and take "too close an interest in the day-to-day work of schools".
The National Association of Head Teachers has been much to the fore in complaining about undue "interference" by governors in headteachers' responsibilities and the lack of clear definition of the boundaries between the roles and responsibilities of heads and governing bodies. Such complaints have persisted, despite an attempt by heads' and governors' groups to draft a consensus on this, published recently by the DFEE as Guidance on Good Governance.
There clearly can be tensions between the managers and governors of a school. Governors may be part-time volunteers but they have central, legally prescribed, roles to play in conducting and directing schools. Their powers and responsibilities are set out in various places: the instrument and articles of government which are the documents setting the legal basis for governing bodies existence and in various education Acts and regulations.
Headteachers also have professional duties which they are obliged by various legal requirements - including their statutory conditions of employment - to carry out. These make it clear that heads are responsible for the "internal organisation, management and control of the school". This includes formulating aims, managing staff, organising the curriculum and evaluating standards, keeping good order and discipline, controlling the budget and school premises.
But heads' conditions of service also make it clear that in performing these professional duties they are subject to "any rules, regulations or policies laid down by the governing body".
Furthermore, in carrying out their professional duties heads are bound by their conditions to consult governors where this is appropriate. And they must also advise and assist the governing body "in the exercise of its functions, including attending meetings of the governing body and making such reports to it in connection with the discharge of (the head's) functions as it may properly require".
So where does governing end and managing begin? The precise boundaries will vary from school to school. As a rule of thumb, governors should generally be concerned with the planning and reviewing stages; agreeing the aims and priorities and then monitoring the outcomes. Paid managers contribute to this as well, but they are generally responsible for organising resources and implementing plans agreed by the governors.
So while the headteacher may be responsible for, say, spending the budget or disciplining pupils, in doing so he or she must apply any policy or rules or guidelines laid down by the governing body. If the governing body has not provided any, the head is still responsible for managing and controlling these aspects of the school and is likely to apply his or her own judgment.
As the DFEE's booklet Guidance on Good Governance puts it: "The governing body is responsible for determining the aims and overall conduct of the school. This includes deciding, with the head-teacher, how the school should develop in order to maintain and improve its standards of education; and approving the broad policies, plans and procedures which will support that development.
"In discussion with the governing body, the headteacher is responsible for formulating policies for their eventual approval. The headteacher is also responsible for implementing these policies, managing and administering the school, and organising and operating the school's curriculum, acting within the framework set by the governing body."
But effective school management along these lines will only occur in a supportive framework where each partner recognises and respects the responsibilities of the other.
Guidance on Good Governance DFEE 1996; free from DFEE Pub-lications Centre, PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ. Tel: 0171 510 0150. On the Internet: http:www.open.gov.ukdfeedfeehome.htm