So, where do you and the kids want to go this year?

15th June 2001 at 01:00
If you can organise a family holiday, then you should have no problem with the strategic planning role, says David Marriott

ANYONE for a bit of strategic and development planning, monitoring and evaluation. Or does that sound a bit intimidating?

Many governors fear that such tasks lie beyond their "amateur" knowledge and capabilities. But establishing and managing a strategic plan for your school is less of a challenge than it may seem. Part of the problem, as so often in governorship, is the language. The words imply sophisticated concepts. It sounds as if you have to be a bit of an expert to talk about them, let alone do them!

The reality is different. Most people do these things all the time in their personal and professional lives. We just don't always use the same terms to describe them. Most of us manage domestic budgets or plan family events that can be complicated, like weddings. We are used to dealing with crises, doing several things at once, and adjusting to events.

Governors bring "the precious light of ordinariness" to schools. The trouble is, they don't always recognise that they have useful skills. The jargon gets in the way.

Let's take the example of a family holiday abroad to see how we might make better use of governors' everyday skills. How does going on holiday relate to planning, monitoring and review?

First, before we go away, we need to find out what each family member wants from the holiday and plan to meet everyone's needs and expectations as far as we can.

The corresponding process at school involves consulting teachers, the head and governors about priorities for the year ahead and ensuring that the whole school community contributes.

As a family we need to decide where and when to go, and how to get there. The corresponding school processes involve agreeing a shared vision, setting a timescale and deciding the main actions in the plan.

The family has to decide what it can afford and adjust the plans as necessary. The school must identify likely costs and link actions to the available bdget.

And there are the practical arrangements: checking passports, buying travel guides; having jabs. In school, we're putting detail into the plan and thinking through the things we need. We have to make sure the house is secure while we're away and cancel the milk; at school, that means keeping everything going on a daily basis while we focus on development.

Then there are the packing and cleaning. At school, we ensure we have what we need to carry out the detail of the plan and establish a clear baseline before it starts.

Once we're on holiday, we might organise different activities at different times and keep checking that everyone's happy. We'll keep an eye on the weather, people's health, and the money, send postcards, and record what we did by taking photos.

Back at school, we're focusing on different elements of the plan at different times. We're monitoring people's activities and checking that planned actions are going ahead, making adjustments in view of changed circumstances. Budget monitoring,brief reports on progress and recording key events and developments all continue.

All good things must come to an end, however. Unpacking, laundry and unopened mail await us on our return. We get photos developed and change surplus currency. We start to plan the next holiday in the light of this one.

The school process consists of taking stock at the end of the planned period, evaluating what went well and what could be improved; reporting on progress and celebrating success. We review and adjust the budget before starting on the next plan with the benefit of experience.

With a little encouragement and a helpful analogy, most governors can be helped to see how their everyday experience and knowledge can be brought to bear on school governance tasks. But that's not quite the same thing as saying that being a governor really is one long holiday.

David Marriott is head of governor support at Wiltshire County Council and author of "The Effective School Governor", (Network Educational Press, tel: 01785 225515)

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