Governors. They are a vital piece of any school and should, according to law, ‘conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school’. Many would agree that they should provide the support and challenge the head teacher needs to question their practice, to ensure they are doing the best job they can for every pupil within their care, plus governing bodies are the key strategic decision making body in every school. But what does this look like in your school? And what type of governing body is best? Or most effective? Where do your governors sit within your ‘band’? And how do you feel about that?
Are your Governors like your groupies? Do they love everything you say and love everything you do? They listen attentively in meetings, nodding enthusiastically at all your suggestions, fawning over you and your brilliance. However flattered you are by these governors, nonetheless the issue is that they will never challenge you. Their remit, as governors, should be to hold the head teacher to account, for the educational performance of both the school and it’s pupils. But surely this is impossible if they will never question your reasons, your aims or the purpose of what you are doing. They need to be monitoring and it is they that are ultimately accountable for your practice and performance, so if they are only nodding, agreeing and screaming their approval at your every move and decision, where is the rigour? The answer is that it’s not there, and therein lies your problem. As a senior leader you have a duty to ensure and maintain high standards of teaching and learning, and your governors have a duty to ensure you do. Groupies hardly require the necessary skills and commitment to improvement and performance, they are purely ultimate fans. Let’s hope they don’t take their bras off and throw them across the meeting room.
They work for you. Subtle shift here. You tell them what to do and they feel obliged that is what they have to do. They lug about the heavy stuff. They take the difficult issues and they deal with them in the way you tell them too. Is this like when Governors take your complaints procedure and deal with a ‘heavy’ complaint from a parent? Are they simply following your instructions about how to deal with the situation, but bearing the brunt of the dirty work?
Although it’s not just about your control over them, many roadies love the bands they work for; they do the job because they feel they lack the talent to be part of the band, yet yearn to be a part of it. They are loyal. Does this reflect your governors? Many governors respect the education system and hold schools and their leaders in high esteem, finding school governance their way of being part of that. But they themselves are not educators, they lack the skills and knowledge of pedagogy, strategic thinking and day to day operational stresses and demands, and so rely solely on you to give them the direction. Is this healthy? Can a governing body really challenge and be the critical ear needed to ensure the school is on the right path if they are entirely loyal and in awe of the leaders?
They may build a productive and supportive relationship, sharing out the manual, behind the scenes tasks, but do they really hold the leadership of the school to account for school performance? Do they care about the objective data and take hard strategic decisions from this? Or do they just follow direction? Can they make informed decisions without the necessary understanding or knowledge?
A support band has its own vision, its own values and its own sound. They wrote their own songs. Yes, they may be fans of yours and they may love your music, but it isn’t theirs. They believe passionately in what they believe – like Governors who respect what you do, admire your vision and in many ways support you as senior leader, however they have their own agenda. They have their own songs, their own plans that they are going to follow through with.
Do you need to be careful here? It may be easy to think that because your governors are nodding and agreeing with what you say that you have them fully on board. As mentioned previously, this lack of challenge may not be healthy, or helpful. But what if they are just your support band? What if, although they love your ‘sound’, they really have their own songs they are singing when they take the stage? Are they going to fully support your aims? Or do they just agree, and do their own thing anyway? They don’t counter your aims and they don’t stand in your way. But they don’t fully believe. They understand the passion of the music, but have their own agenda, their own songs.
Yes, I am sure a support band will regularly evaluate their performance, it’s fundamental to their success, much like that of a governing body, but their measure of success will not be the same as yours, it will be independent.
Ask yourself – how much do your Governors really support your vision and sing your song? Do they act more as your backing singers? Do they sway in time with your music, but perhaps only really join in and sing along to the catchy bits, to the nice bits. Even then, are they just mimicking and singing along with exactly what you are saying? Clearly they are listening to the message you’re giving, but they just go with the flow.
Or are they harmonising, listening to you and ensuring that what they think, say and do at all times complements your vision, your song? Is there criticality and challenge in this model? Maybe if they’re coming up with their own complementary harmonies they are retrying to bring their own tune to your way. But is this enough to be effective? Are they just trying to show face, to try and show that they are challenging the strategic direction, and decisions, of the leadership team, and really just token harmonies.
Your band mates are there to support you. They fully buy into what you are doing and what you stand for. Are these your governors? United you stand as a team and they are there to ensure success for the whole band, the whole school. Without your band mates your vision and sound is hollow, empty and meaningless. They give flesh to the bones of your music, they work hard to see your vision come to fruition and be a hit, a success. They trust you, support you and share your vision and ideals. However, is this really their true purpose as school governors? In no way do they challenge the tune. They play what you ask them to. In many bands, such as Hagar leaving Van Halen, any differences often result in band mates leaving. Is this true for governors? Can they objectively work with the school if they are so involved in agreeing all the time? Do you have foundation governors? They have a specific role in preserving and developing the character of the school. Is this like your band mates? Are they invested in developing the sound of the band together, or do they have their own ideas?
I guess that in this way, the governors are ensuring clarity of vision and assisting the strategic direction, but they are lacking the accountability and the holding to account.
Here the power changes. Here, the manager is in charge. The manager tells the band and lead singer, ultimately what they will do. They decide whether the direction is the right one, determine long term strategic vision, agree strategic priorities, aims and objectives for the school and sign off the policies, plans and targets for how to achieve them. Very business like. Very manager like. Perhaps even negotiating, or demanding to get the very best for their band, like Peter Grant did for Led Zeppelin. The manager also takes a share of the success, after all, they create the opportunities. Are your governors like your manager? Do they run the school? Do they have the strategic direction mapped out for you to follow? And is this amount of control this okay? Where does ensuring and overseeing vision, focus, strategic direction and accountability for performance begin and end? Is to okay for the senior leadership of a school to be fully led and shaped by the governors, people who tend to come from a background other than education?
One key responsibility of the governing body is to oversee the financial performance of the school and making sure it’s money is well spent. Like the manager of a band, holding the purse strings, the governors need to oversee that money is well invested in the future of the school.
Ultimately, Should there be an equal relationship between governors and senior leadership? Or is one of the above relationships actually best? As a senior leader, how much control, or power, over ‘your’ vision is important to you, or is really necessary? So what is the ideal relationship? Does it need to be flexible and dependent on the situation and the nature of the need within that context? How responsive are your governors to the changing times, both on a national educational scale, but also the day to day changes within a school? Do they understand the complexities of your school? Do they challenge operational and strategic decisions? And perhaps, regardless of what the law states, do they simply leave the running of the school to the head teacher? After all, that is what they appointed you for! So, where do your governors sit within your ‘band’? And perhaps the most important thing is, how do you feel about that?