It's day one and Kenny is chatting to Harriet...

9th July 2004 at 01:00
... in true reality TV tradition, we eavesdrop on an informal cyber-chat between a headteacher and the chair of governors at an inner-city school.

They both describe themselves as assertive. Together they are responsible for a big inner-city comprehensive and they both want the best for its pupils. But they do not always agree on how it should be done.

Kenny Frederick and Harriet Jones are head and chair of governors for George Green's school in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Harriet has been chair for a year, Kenny has been head for eight years. One of their chief desires is to involve the whole governing body in the leadership of the school.

They use email and intranet to bounce ideas off each other without too many formal meetings. Here they let us in on one of their debates, about the governors' development plan.

Harriet: Hi Kenny. The governor committee chairs met last week to discuss our development plan for next year. I am enclosing a copy for your comments. Please feel free to be our critical friend.

Kenny: It's looking good, Harriet. The only thing missing is something on governors' involvement in helping us create a real full-service school. We need governors to use their influence to help us harness the commitment of social services, the health service and other support agencies.

This will be our biggest challenge over the next year. How can governors help?

Harriet: Good point. As you know, I have been attending the full-service schools steering group, but think that it would be a good thing to make sure that there is a link governor attached.

Marion is planning to invite people from different agencies to address committee meetings next year, starting with someone from the borough's children in care team, and that ought to start building links to local agencies.

Kenny: Excellent. On another issue, you set a target around "improving knowledge of governors' role among stakeholders". Are we aiming at the school staff or the governors? I think there is a need for both.

Many staff have little or no knowledge of what governors actually do or what their responsibilities are. I think some governors are equally confused. Are you suggesting we do a workshop on the first two induction days of term? If yes, we can only spare an hour at the most, there is so much to fit into those two days.

What about governors' training sessions? Do we leave them as they are now - before full governing body meetings? Or do we hold them on different evenings or on Saturday mornings?

Harriet: It's targeted at all stakeholders, including staff, parentscarers, and governors. We don't need to take up too much time at an in-service training day, but it would be good to get a staffgovernor partner team that works well to explain to staff how governors can be a help. But while a few governors might be confused, more of them are frustrated that they are not taken seriously.

Kenny: Shame on you. We take you very seriously. However, I take your point. I would like governors' training to be part of our school plan.

The most recent staff residential was exceptionally well received because we did the training ourselves. Staff felt it was more relevant and personal. Perhaps we can get governors to do the training themselves?

Harriet: Yes. We have already agreed that informal meetings on a Saturday morning before full meetings work well. Meeting independently of school staff allows everyone to air their opinions.

It also lets those of us with more experience set things straight where there is confusion.

We are appointing a link training governor who can set targets and incorporate them into the training strategy. Governors could participate alongside staff in some of the school training sessions.

Kenny: Yes, I think that would be helpful and would break down more barriers. I think governors' training should also be included in our middle and seniors leaders' development programme. This year we will be opening the programme to other schools as part of the leadership incentive grant initiative.

We could also open it to governors from across the borough. Do you think there would be any interest?

Harriet: Great idea. Some of our governors, of course, are already experienced leaders and managers. But we have a lot of talent, especially among parents, that could be developed.

And that kind of opportunity could appeal to people who are hoping, for example, to get back into work or develop their confidence.

Kenny: I will see what we can set up. When it comes to reviewing the plan, how will we know if we have been successful? Are we expecting all governors to join a committee and be actively involved in a faculty or year group? Is this realistic? Most work full-time and have families and other responsibilities. If we expect too much we might lose governors!

Harriet: OK, I know that I am an idealist. But my main objective is to maximise governor participation. The only way we can do that is to spread the work among committees by making sure that committee chairs are well trained and encourage their group of governors to become more involved.

There are always governors who don't have time to do much, but there are a lot who want to be more involved but don't know how.

Kenny: Well, as you know, I don't do realism very well myself. Let's be ambitious in our targets. I agree that the work needs to be shared out.

The link governor system is worth pursuing. The governor gets a real insight into one area of the school and acts as critical friend and champion. I know that middle leaders who have worked with their link governor have found it really useful.

Harriet: I agree - that is what we need to get across at an Inset day. We now have some link partnerships that work really well, and need to build on it.

Kenny: Setting up discussions (such as this one) on our digital brain intranet will be a useful way of getting governors' views.

If governors can lead the way we will have no problem communicating with all the stakeholders in the school. What about the few who are not comfortable with the technology?

Harriet: I am a techno-enthusiast, Kenny. But technology doesn't work unless it makes people's lives easier and less complicated. I have my doubts about it in the short-term, to be honest.

We want the governors to be inclusive, just like we want George Green's to be inclusive. And fancy online chat lists might exaggerate divisions by creating an exclusive club of participants.

On the other hand, maybe we can persuade the finance committee to buy laptops for all the governors who don't have them. Or would you rather fix the roof?

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