Steering on the Titanic

10th March 2000 at 00:00
Jane Phillips on how to encourage potential chairs and avoid the current recruitment crisis.

WE ALL know how difficult it is to persuade a willing volunteer to chair the governing body.

Governors are becoming more and more reluctant to take on a seemingly onerous and

unrewarding job.

So why have we now to work to new rules in electing our chairs of governors? Rules apparently based on the assumption that people are desperate to take on the job but cannot dislodge a long-standing occupant. The reality is that we have long-standing chairs, good, bad and indifferent because no one else will do it.

I realised that recruitment was reaching crisis point when I led a training course for newly-elected chairs. Of the 22 participants, 18 had been governors for less than two years and one had been a governor for less than a year. All were reluctant, all had

succumbed to pressure to stand for election, all were uncontested and all were scared stiff.

They were novices taking on responsibilities that more experienced governors had refused. Undoubtedly, they had the commitment to put in the time and effort required, but is it fair to them or to the school to expect them to take on this role?

How can we try to prevent this happening on our governing

bodies? We can have a process for ensuring orderly succession and we can make the chair's

job more manageable.

Succession planning for the next chair should, ideally, start as soon as the present incumbent is elected. Potential chairs need to be encouraged to take on responsibility. They must be

persuaded, enticed, cajoled to chair committees and working parties. The governing body can better plan if it knows when the present chair is likely to wish to stand down. Successionshould not be left to chance.

The chair's role can be as long as a piece of string, but with

careful thought the string can be measured in centimetres not

kilometres. There are certain tasks which only the chair can perform. These are few and far between (see the National

Association of Governors and Managers' paper, The Role of the Chair).

Most tasks which ordinarily fall to the chair can be delegated to other governors. And this can only be healthy - it ensures that knowledge is spread throughout the governing body. The unhealthy scenario of an "A team" consisting of the head and chair, and a "B team" of

uninformed governors is

impossible if the work is shared equitably.

And what use do we make of our vice-chairs? Each year, governing bodies elect a vice-chair - in most cases to a non-job. All schools will soon have "leadership teams", so why not

governing bodies? The chair and

vice-chair, working together, can share the load and provide mutual support.

These initiatives will help but must, to some extent, be seen as rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The new draft

regulations on head and teacher appraisal, which place additional responsibilities on chairs, if implemented, will undoubtedly tip the ship further to the


Until "them up there" understand governors, their motivation and the limits of their endurance, recruitment and retention of governors and chairs of governors will continue its decline into crisis.

Jane Phillips is an independent governor-trainer and consultant. She is a

governor of two schools. She writes here in a personal capacity. The National Association of Governors and Managers can be contacted on

0121 643 5787 or

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