School governors are one of the country’s largest volunteer forces. They take days off work, attend evening meetings and spend hours reading reports, data and more reports – all for free.
You’d think schools would make things as easy as possible for these stalwarts of the system, providing training and offering detailed notes to smooth the way. But that doesn’t always happen, and many governors say they are treated not as a critical friend but as an irritant.
How best can schools support governors, making sure they receive the help they need, their time is rewarded and the school gets the most out of them? We asked three headteachers for their views.
Sally Williams, Myatt Garden Primary School, South London
Everyone on the governing body needs to be informed and active for it to be successful. We buy into the Lewisham local authority governors’ service, so we flag training opportunities in the agenda and suggest that certain people attend specific sessions – for example, when a new governor joins the board.
It’s vital that governors receive training because they each have different skills, backgrounds and experience. Some have children, others don’t, but they must all understand how a school operates. Training and governor meetings shouldn’t be totemic exercises; governors need to understand the context of our discussions and policies to fulfil their monitoring role.
Deirdre Fitzpatrick, Uplands School, Swindon
I have been a governor in five different schools, so I know governors don’t always get all the information. If governors are well trained they are infinitely more effective. They volunteer their time, so they deserve our help to ensure they are prepared. It’s like walking into any job: you need training to do the role.
Every year we review our governors’ skills and impact, and they tell us what they need. We create a development plan and review the previous year’s plan. Each new governor is allocated a trained buddy. It makes my life more difficult as I’m constantly challenged, but it builds morale. Governors feel they’re doing the job right and I feel more supported.
Andrew Smith, Carluke High School, South Lanarkshire
To challenge and support the headteacher, governors must understand school procedure. In Scotland, parent governors are involved over a number of years, giving them time to learn the school’s processes. The parent council is elected by the parent forum, and we don’t provide formal training except when recruiting; we have at least one parent on every panel when recruiting for a permanent post.
We mainly look for interest and enthusiasm, but an induction would be useful if there were a higher turnover. The members of our parent council have held their posts for a while, so my focus is on communication, specifically between me and the chair.
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