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Tough questions you have to ask

You probably don't spend much time pondering philosophical questions about school governance such as the nature of accountability, but this concept is the bedrock on which governance is built.

Just as individual governors have no powers apart from those of the corporate governing body, so none of us has any right to make important decisions about our school other than as representatives of its stakeholder groups.

We aren't often called to account beyond the annual job of publishing the school profile and the three-yearly visit by Ofsted, who include governance in their assessment of the school's leadership and management. For most of the time, accountability is just something to bear in mind when reaching decisions - on whose behalf are these being made?

But accountability is a room with two entrances and exits. Governors are accountable, but it is more important that other people - specifically the school's senior management team - are accountable to them.

Our job is not only to set the strategic direction of the school, but to monitor and evaluate how it then progresses. This means being able to ask the right question, which is often not the first one you put but the follow-up that probes the reply you have been given. It is about being prepared to challenge as well as support the headteacher, and thereby gain understanding of what is happening in the school.

Whereas navel-gazing is not a good use of governors' time, being aware of the implications of accountability is.

Show me a struggling or failing school, and I'll almost certainly show you a governing body that has not managed to ask difficult questions, see through evasive answers and confront uncomfortable facts.

Stephen Adamson, Vice-chair, National Governors' Association

In the middle; the law, page 25.

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