In some schools the governing body is an integral part of school life, members are well known to parents and staff alike and have a seamless knowledge of policy and practice.
At others, governors are occasional visitors, viewed with nerves and suspicion by staff and families. One of the most difficult roles of senior management teams (SMTs) and heads in particular is getting the balance and relationship with the governing body right.
The roles and responsibilities of the governing body are central to running a successful school. Everyone should have a clear idea of their duties and the roles of others. A good rule of thumb is to think of governors as the admiralty that decide upon the overall direction of the ship, but it is the captain and the crew (the school's staff) that decide how and when to get there.
The governing body decides on the strategy, the head and the SMT decide on the tactics and implement them with the staff. It is when these roles are blurred that problems occur; it is not the governing body's responsibility to decide which year group should attend swimming lessons. It may however, be their role to read the handwriting policy. They also need to be discreet. Nothing is worse than gossip and half truths leaking around the school community.
Governors' meetings can be lengthy if roles are not clarified. Efficient meetings should be prompt and organised affairs with reports from the smaller governor committees, such as curriculum, health and safety or finance. Most schools have termly or half-termly governors' meetings with regular smaller meetings of the various committee members. This enables the full remit of the governing body to be broken up into manageable aspects.
A successful governing board plays on its individuals' strengths: someone who is an accountant may be invaluable on the finance committee, a firefighter may be interested in health and safety, so an audit of governors' interests and strengths is a useful way to bring a new body together or for a new head to establish themselves. The chair of governors has a vital role to play and needs to be a strong and dynamic person who can work well with the headteacher. That said, they also need to be able to support and challenge the status quo.
Governor training is often overlooked, but can enhance the team ethos and build future capacity. Local authorities often have training sessions and there is a wealth of information and support online for governors. Building in governor training into teacher training sessions can also be helpful.
Governors can help break down barriers by attending school functions, from assemblies to jumble sales. You could also consider mingling PTA and governor events. Using technology to support governor relationships helps save time, too. Think about hosting conference calls or use email to distribute the governors' report to parents.
Finally, make your governors feel valued. A successful and positive governing body can make a school and a divided and negative one can break it.
Kate Aspin is a senior lecturer in education at the University of Huddersfield. Next week: Managing suppliers
- Build relationships, formally and informally, between the body and staff and community.
- Ensure everyone is certain of their roles and responsibilities.
- Use time wisely and use sub-committees to build on individual strengths.
- Don't forget to support and strengthen by auditing skills and training new members.
- Pick your chair wisely and work in tandem; he or she should be a critical friend.
- Confidentiality is vital, as is having an honest approach to declaring an interest, especially with parent governors.
- Use technology to save time and build links to the wider community.