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Treading a thin line on the boards

It's not unusual for governors to get confused about their role. Even experienced ones can find it hard to get the balance right between providing support for the head and scrutinising proposals and plans. It can also be difficult to tread the thin line between strategic and operational. Then there's the governor that tries to get too involved in the day-to-day management of the school.

Providing support for the head at the expense of any real scrutiny often gets a school into difficulties as poorly considered plans go awry. Only scrutinising but never providing much support can destabilise even the most dedicated head and staff. Then governors' meetings become little more than a "bear fight" and the head usually just becomes defensive. A "well done" or "thanks" never goes amiss, particularly if it's deserved, sincere and intended for a head or member of staff trying to do their best.

When support and scrutiny become out of balance it's important for the governing body to stop and consider how this has happened and how to put it right. It's also worth the chair talking with the head to see whether he or she feels that the balance is right. It may also be worth co-opting an experienced observer to sit in on a few governors' meetings and get their feedback.

Where the challenge is a governor who seems to want to "run the school", the chair needs to take firm action supported by other governors. The temptation is to fall into saying "take it up with the head outside the meeting" every time this governor says something. However, this just transfers the problem to the head. Better to provide individual advice and perhaps some mentoring for the governor concerned - otherwise meetings become dominated by a constant "out of order" ruling that benefits no one.

Alan Wells, Chair of governors at a north-east London primary.

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