Why governors are still 'unsung heroes'

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors' Association, explains why governors are doing an incredible job.

Tes Editorial

There is a consensus that school governance needs to improve.The National Governors' Association provides information and guidance to governing bodies across England on what constitutes good governance and practical, efficient ways of achieving this. As part of that work we meet hundreds - even thousands - of governors who are doing an incredible job, many bringing great skill to the table.

Clearly in my trips round the country I meet the most enthusiastic governors, the ones who will turn up on a Saturday to learn more and to improve their ability to undertake this critical role.Many of these people - particularly those who take on the additional responsibility of chairing a governing body - are deeply impressive and I do not say that lightly.

Of course there are others who are unaware of the most effective practice and we need to challenge those governing bodies. To this end at the summer reception of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Education Governance and Leadership, we launched `Twenty key questions for a school governing body to ask itself'.

The White Paper `The importance of teaching' in November 2010 called governors `unsung heroes' and promised to `put right' the fact that `to date governors have not received the recognition, support or attention that they deserve'. During the intervening 18 months we have had many conversations with the Department for Education about how this might be put right, and we have urged the Secretary of State to help by making a speech on the importance of governance and stress the points we are in agreement on - such as the need to remain strategic and focussed on school improvement, and the need to effectively challenge the school leadership. Lord Hill, the Under-Secretary of State for Schools, has written an article laying out the Government's thinking.

Imagine my surprise then when the Secretary of State finally mentioned governors in a recent speech, only to focus on the motivation of volunteers - an odd choice for a Government promoting the `Big Society'.

The phrase: `Local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status not a job of work' has caused much reaction, primarily one of bemusement amongst governors who give freely of their time and who, for the life of them, cannot see the glory that is accrued. True, the role of governors should be one respected and valued, as board members are more likely to be in the private and third sectors; the jobs are equivalent.But this level of respect is not yet the case in many schools.

The Secretary of State rightly says governing bodies should not govern by anecdote and fad. Neither should policy be made on this basis, and many of the anecdotes about governance I hear peddled in Whitehall and Westminster are seriously out-of-date.

Furthermore there are different models of governance being tried and tested in many schools and groups of schools. The Secretary of State has a challenge for "his friends in the media. Our education system is changing at the moment - dramatically and, I believe, overwhelmingly for the better. Let's hear more about the schools and teachers doing amazing things, not the dwindling number standing in the way of progress and marginalising themselves within the debate". I throw that challenge back to him - let's hear more about the governors doing amazing things.

Perhaps the Secretary of State has done us a favour by bringing us into the limelight, given that for many years NGA has struggled to get coverage for the importance of governance. I am honoured to have the privilege of representing governors from both local authority maintained schools and academies, and let us not be deflected from our important job of work by this sort of language.Let us continue doing what we must - quietly and effectively governing schools up and down the country in the best interests of the children in the community.

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