School Governance – keep an eye on ethos and values. 

I’ve always believed in collaboration,  why wouldn’t you.  We can all learn from others and they from us.  That’s why I can never understand why successful schools are often reluctant to work with those facing greater challenges.  There is clear evidence that working together makes us better.  

However,  be that as it may,  I’m thinking about governance of schools and what is happening there. I was at a talk recently on governance across the business sector and the participants from big companies were exercised about emphasising culture and ethos from the top and not just the bottom line.  There seems parallels for those of us on school boards now especially as we are in the new academy/MAT world of independent trusts and governance.  Their message was clearly to be aware of the importance first and foremost of the ethos and values of the organisation.  In schools we know this instinctively but it does no harm to be reminded.  There are many a school that finds it hard to articulate succinctly what is is unique ethos and its values.

Time was when I would have made no such link between business and education.  When I first came into teaching all schools had a governing body probably 15 or so people from the community, teaching staff and parents. Committees were common place (note now being replaced by lead individuals) .  These governors made up and still do the largest volunteer force in the country.  Now wherever we look there is diversity certainly of structure as governance adapts to its new accountability but we shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of our distinct culture. 

When I was at the Dfe we spent much time compiling a guide on best practise and I am sure the fundamentals remain the same.  No more than 12 governors is seen as optimum.  Staff governors are less in evidence but parents have recently been reprieved and rightly so.  One of the questions from ‘Tomorrow’s Company’ guidance asks ‘How are the changing expectations of key stakeholders being monitored to inform purpose and goals?’ Well parents are key and it is noticeable that their concerns focus today on safety and care and breadth for their children even before pure attainment. 

Things are changing in school governance. There is no harm in reminding ourselves as this happens and, as business is having to do,  that purpose and values and the culture they inspire needs to be at the heart of every school or MAT and the lead must be seen at the top.  MATs are devising differing models of governance often depending on the size of their groups.  Many have the Trust Board of say 6 or 7 trustees and each school has a local governing body (LGB). These latter may not have all the legal responsibilities of trustees but they still have to assure that the values and culture are being embedded and to embody it themselves.  Another question from the TC guide is as relevant to us as is to business: ‘What are the board behaviours we wish to encourage? ‘  In schools this can be visits to school to observe,  responsibility for certain areas of school life,  attendance at meetings,  also to question as much as possible.  Finally it is of course important to have a variety of skills at the disposal of the Chair and Principal/ CEO.  I leant so much from my governors. 

One MAT I know is putting in place regional governing bodies (RGBs) which sit under the main Trust.  Here the members have oversight of a number of schools in a given region.  It is no wonder that there is some talk now of paying members of local/regional governing bodies.  Being a governor requires expertise, time and effort.  It is a very rewarding role and must be valued and understood.  The expectations and responsibilities are great.  It is to be hoped that more individuals come forward from every walk of life to serve on school boards and bring breadth and challenge to the benefit of our youngsters in school. 

Education is not separate from any walk of life but it is central.  It behoves us to keep an eye out for any way we can raise standards and learn from others. 


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